The Dirt (dir. Jeff Tremaine, 2019) – Mötley Crüe dishes the dirt on how they came to be one of the most notorious rock ‘n roll groups in history.
Mötley Crüe’s chaotic frivolity gets a disappointingly shallow play-by-play treatment in The Dirt.
The Dirt is in every way an affront to modern society that celebrates strong women and frowns upon amoral heroes. It is thus unsurprising that vitriol befalls the Crüe stories of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, better left behind in an era long gone. Much of the criticism is sadly rightful, this coming from a Crüehead who has been eager for the film.
Faithfulness is far from its fatal flaw, as one may expect of a biopic. In fact, most of the insane stories are actually true. Any readers of The Heroin Diaries and the titular biography would know that The Dirt is as accurate as the band’s drug-addled memories allow.
The cast did unexpectedly well with what they had, too. Machine Gun Kelly, Douglas Booth, Daniel Webber, and Iwan Rheon as the Crüe all dismissed some serious doubts the very second they donned their wigs and outfits. None performed better than Tony Cavalero, who captures Ozzy Osbourne’s wild side and spirit entirely in his memorably revolting turn.
Despite this, Jeff Tremaine’s film soon reveals itself to be no more than a greatest hits compilation, not of Mötley Crüe’s music but of their pure decadence. The songs seem to mean little. Apart from Live Wire, the on-screen band performs the rest of their singles as though they are merely uninspired products to sell.
Granted their songs are mostly about sexism and cocaine (it comes with the territory!), the boys did produce several inspired works that deserve the spotlight, contrary to popular belief. But it is right there in the title; The Dirt is uninterested in anything other than the pure filth in their misguided lifestyles. That is possibly why it had plays down just how much Mick Mars struggled with his chronic condition, in favour of a day in the glam boots of the coke-fuelled Tommy Lee.
Shot from his point of view, the latter offers a discomforting look into the rock star’s self-destructive lifestyle. The scene offers one of few compelling visual choices that work. It is nonetheless oddly placed, much like the sudden fourth-wall breaking that randomly interjected scenes when it suited.
The stylistic direction jars with the more serious subjects in the film. The sheen of glamour feels especially tasteless for what is essentially criminal, glossing over notorious incidents including Nikki Sixx’s fatal heroin overdose and Vince Neil’s vehicular manslaughter.
It was uncomfortable to watch Neil plop down on the sofa and selfishly lament on how he is being judged, right after his accident that killed Hanoi Rocks’ Razzle and severely injured two others. The script constantly disregards the gravity of their misdeeds like this, attributing these acts to a necessary brand for the band.
But when the credits roll, we get a glimpse of the mature cautionary tale that we could have had. The moments where Mötley Crüe themselves retell their own stories, are those that truly shine, their own disbelief and regret acknowledging their inexcusable behaviour back in their youth.
These men are not the unapologetic epitome of hedonism that the film portrays them to be. One cannot help but think that a documentary in Crüe’s own words might have worked better than this misguided tribute to them at their worst. After all, bad attitude is dated and honestly, overrated.