“We weren’t a band. We were a gang.”
With the gaudy packaging of a Girls Gone Wild VHS tape told through the investigative style of VH1’s old Behind the Music series, The Dirt pushes its chips all in on every hand until the money is completely gone. The movie goes for broke, opening with a literally explosive act of cunnilingus so absurdly exaggerated that we’re skeptical from that point forward, and quite appropriately so. The Dirt’s script might be adapted from the tell-all book, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken with a grain of salt either, and as the young members of Mötley Crüe might suggest, followed by a lethal amount of tequila and a squeeze of lime straight into your eye for a good laugh.
The Dirt tends to play better earlier on as the band assembles together. Nikki Six (Douglas Booth) is the founder and the bassist for the group, which makes him the foundation on both sides. He’s friends with drummer Tommy Lee (Machine Gun Kelly, proving he can act or at least devotedly play a part), they find their guitarist Mick Mars (Iwan Rheon) via posted tryouts, and land lead vocalist Vince Neil (Daniel Webber) during one of his cover band gigs. Vince might play small shows, but the ladies do love him. And hence Mötley Crüe was born. It’s entertaining to watch their quick flight towards fame, how they were as much of a lifestyle brand as they were a headlining band, and how they claim to remember the way things went down despite being high and drunk out of their minds the vast majority of the time. The Dirt and the band members’ memories most definitely test the truth, but the film isn’t about being autobiographical. It more so wants to impart a certain kind of adrenaline rush, and it does so with enough elasticity that its fiction can be stretched paper-thin without tearing.
Aggressively naughty by its very nature, The Dirt’s approach is all attack fueled through kinetic energy, wasting no time before diving deep into the debauchery of the infamous band that’s almost better remembered nowadays for their obscene off-stage behavior than their simple, repetitive, catchy hair metal music. The film not only recognizes this, but also seems to cautiously celebrate the antics as well, shining the spotlight on their fiendish ways while still allowing us to see the full circle repercussions of their depraved, inebriated actions. Between all the drugs and booze and women, they made some albums and played tons of shows. The phrase “living life in the fast lane” undersells how reckless and blindly they sped along. The Dirt doesn’t cleanly stick the landing, but its aerial maneuvers prove to be entertaining, if not a bit too unorthodox for its own good.
Deftly directed by Jeff Tremaine of Jackass fame, The Dirt has plenty of style but not enough substance to sustain its length, eventually and abruptly shifting from rock anthems to melodramatic ballads in the latter third. It’s done no favors by the uninspired performance from Rheon who plays Mars with a flat sneer and an utterly forgettable personality. And SNL‘s Pete Davidson undermines every single scene he’s in as the band’s manager, doing the type of thoughtless impression that’d find its way on the cutting room floor of his home sketch comedy show. Despite all of that though, I still think The Dirt is a decent movie, and it should be commended for the title alone, insinuating from the start that this rock biopic that has not been run through the car wash or taken for a manicure before being shipped out to the masses. There’s bird shit on the windshield and grime under these fingernails, and that’s where the story is at its most disgusting and its most telling, which is more than you can say for last year’s squeaky clean Bohemian Rhapsody, the most awarded film of the 2018 Academy Awards. The Dirt embraces warts and all, proving that while the explicit version of a record might be offensive to some, it at least doesn’t pretend to be offensively safe.
“It’s got shock value.”
Rating: 3 out of 5