Produced in conjunction with the band itself, this ostensibly shocking examination of the corrupting depravity stemming from modern fame somehow ends up as a cutesy (and meandering) tale of four lovable guys who get into a wee bit of trouble. When nothing will end up on screen that'll make the boys look too bad, you can forget about finding anything meaningful. Unlike Queen, however, whose music was innovative and complex, only the most dyed-at-the-roots Crüe fan in increasingly tight-fitting spandex would suggest that these guys were great musicians as well as performers. The result isn't just a hagiography, it's a fraud. Somebody finally invented dirt.
The Dirt details how these four LA rockers with long hair (oh, man, the wigs in this movie are ludicrous) met up, composed some simple and catchy tunes, then honed a dangerous, swaggering live show heavy with sex appeal. The book on which the movie is based, dictated by all four group members to Neil Strauss, is notorious for sequences that aren't just playful, they are vile and demeaning. (No, I'm not going to link to them.) From the film, one is left with the impression that these guys mainly just ran around hotels in their underwear.
Lead singer Vince Neil's (Daniel Webber) car crash in which he killed his pal "Razzle" (from band Hanoi Rocks) and seriously injured two others is played off as a simple accident and scheduling obstacle. In actuality he was found culpable with a DUI. The one other moment when things get dark is when drummer Tommy Lee (Machine Gun Kelly) socks his girlfriend in the face. It's after she's stabbed him with a pen and called his mother the C word. After landing his punch, there's a "my God, what have I done?" beat and he runs away. It's never mentioned again. Other than this, sure, these lunatic rockers sure did have a lot of consensual sex. Whoop-de-doo.
The film is told with a shifting of narrators: each member, plus their tour manager played by David Costabile and an A&R man played by Pete Davidson, both of whom like to turn to the camera to mug about how wacky stardom is. We first meet bassist/founder Nikki Sixx (Douglas Booth), who grew up with an emotionally abusive single mother. Drummer Tommy Lee, a bit younger, comes from a more loving home. His sister yells, "mom!!!" when she sees him wearing some of her leopard print tights before hitting the LA clubs. "They look better on me!" he fires back. Ah, kids.
Guitarist Mick Mars (Iwan Rheon) is the only member of the band with any innovation to his playing (albeit slight), and it's mentioned early on that he has a debilitating bone disease. Then it doesn't come up again until nearly the end because this movie is a scattershot mess.
Lastly there's vocalist Vince Neil, laughably compared to a cross between David Lee Roth and David Bowie. Neil is fine (as is Webber) but anyone with two ears will quickly recognize that the Crüe's repertoire never gets above passable. An unfortunate moment is the needle-drop of Johnny Thunders' "You Cant Put Your Arms Around a Memory" during a montage of Sixx's backsliding into heroin use. There's no Crüe song that even comes close.
But the argument can be made that Mötley Crüe were more about the vibe, and The Dirt certainly emphasizes that these guys did a lot of carousing, wore wild clothing, had a bombastic stage act (including a hoisted drum set that spun 360 degrees!), and energized their fans. But like Icarus, they drove their sports cars too close to the sun, and eventually all that cocaine, booze, and racing around the globe in private jets caught up with them. There's rehab and breakups and bad blood. The movie just ignores the complete paradigm shift in rock music in 1991 with the release of Nirvana's Nevermind. Come to think of it, there's no mention of Tommy Lee's marriage to Pamela Anderson, who was far more famous than any individual member of this group. (First wife Heather Locklear does get her due, however.) Still, it all ends in triumph with a successful reunion. Huzzah.
The Dirt is a bad movie but it isn't without its pleasures. For starters, no shortage of lithe, naked people. (Mostly the ladies, but I can also now give police details of any identifying marks anywhere on Daniel Webber's person.) There's one sequence in which Tommy Lee narrates "a typical day in the life of a rock god" in which director Jeff Tremaine adds a little flair. It's mostly ripped off from Prodigy's "Smack My Bitch Up" video, but at least it's something. Superfans of the Crüe will likely eat this all up, but for most, other than as passing interest, the dirt is easily swept aside.
The Dirt is now streaming on Netflix.
Jordan Hoffman is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, whose work has appeared in The Guardian, VanityFair.com, amNewYork, Thrillist and Times of Israel.