The biggest mistake The Dirt makes (and that is saying a lot) is featuring actual Mötley Crüe members during the ending credits. You hear drummer Tommy Lee explain an earlier scene in brief, and also guitarist Mick Mars confirming the story around the band’s name. In that split second, you know you would have preferred to have heard this story straight from the source. The Dirt (one of rock n’ roll’s most controversial autobiographies) has been around for almost twenty years. We all know the stories about Ozzy Osbourne and Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx trying to out gross each other (with ant snorting and urine consumption to boot), singer Vince Neil’s conflicts and more. These have been stories passed around in the rock circuits in high school for years now. If Bohemian Rhapsody was a musical biopic based on Wikipedia, The Dirt (despite being based off of the autobiography) is the musical biopic created by pushing Ctrl+F on Wikipedia to find a few tidbits to base a film around.
For a band based so heavily on debauchery, The Dirt has two major flaws. It’s way too shallow, and it’s unauthentically badass. With that first complaint, we have the story. We jump into things very quickly, including an opening house orgy that includes, of all things, female ejaculation. That’s when you remember (oh, right) Jeff Tremaine (co-creator of Jackass, and director of all of its films). Like Sixx and Osbourne trying to outdo one another, Tremaine turns The Dirt into a Jackass of sorts, with stunts taking the place of spots where substance should go (the worst part is these are all simulated, so we don’t even get the discomforted thrill Jackass provides juvenile teenagers). All of the band’s history is blown past, because no one actually wants to dive into that. No. Make way for fire work pranks, bare buttocks pressed against the glass, and room destruction. I have no problem with a film trying to be rock n’ roll, but the band the film is based off of clearly brought that intensity from somewhere. The Dirt is all about the flash, and it’s the most poseur thing you can do.
Any deeper moment gets glossed over so heavily, as if Tremaine figured out on set “Oh my dear goodness gracious me, I have no clue as to how to approach this without mousetraps or paintball guns”. An instance includes a highly insensitive joke about Hanoi Rocks drummer Razzle dying if he does not pick who to sleep with hypothetically (a stirring conversation by Neil) right before he, well, dies. What was clearly an attempt at screenwriting wit comes off as a completely off-colour line, mostly because it’s stuck in a film full of stunts that are meant to shock (so how would poignancy, if it even is that, shine through?).
Tremaine clearly tried to follow the route of comedy-turned-drama directors like Adam McKay and Jay Roach, although he seemed to stay way too close to McKay. The Dirt is like The Big Short with all of the attempts at being smart and a rule-breaker, and none of the actual goods. The fourth wall breaking. The unreliable narrators. The comedy-drama fusion. None of it works here. There are only two direction-based decisions that actually get pulled off. The first is when we spend a day in the life of Tommy Lee, and experience his world from a camera locked on him, and a go-pro styled camera on top of his head. You do feel like a rockstar for a brief moment. The second scene is during Nikki Sixx’s infamous overdose that was strong enough that he was declared legally dead; the collapse of Sixx, the camera movement, and the sound editing truly emphasize the actual weight of a life-sucked corpse meeting the ground, and it’s the only part of the film that actually does shock you genuinely.
Otherwise, this film is a gargantuan letdown when it comes to the recreation of one of the most dangerous bands in mainstream rock history (and I am not even a Mötley Crüe fan; I actually can barely stand them outside of “Kickstart My Heart” and “Shout at the Devil”). Douglas Booth does a decent job as Nikki Sixx, and is easily the most balanced performance here. Machine Gun Kelly, surprisingly, replicated Tommy Lee well, but he collapses under the more dramatic scenes. Iwan Rheon as Mick Mars feels like an authentic attempt stymied by very poor direction. Daniel Webber as Vince Neil feels like a challenge to relate the performance-to-the-icon the entire film. Let’s not even get into Pete Davidson being horribly miscast (despite trying his best), and a complete waste of Anthony Vincent Valbiro as John Corabi (you know, the guy who does the “x song in 20 different styles” YouTube videos? Yeah, he barely says a word, let alone sings despite the fact that he can sing anything).
But trying to beat the record for f-bombs in a film? That was necessary (the total had to have been between 200 to 300, easily, but who can count that quickly?). Oh, there’s a moment that requires actual analysis, between distanced family members and addictions? Let’s sprint through those. Also, I know Mars was the most controlled member of the gang, but it’s as if he doesn’t even exist in most of this film. The Dirt is literally anything and everything Crüe fans (and non fans, like myself) already know. There is actually no dirt in The Dirt. The book’s title references the filth the band took part in, and the slander these revelations would cause. Neither happen here. You can show groupie sex scenes all you want, but why not surprise us with some actual observations of what the band’s one year in rehab was like? Surely, there was something compelling there. Even Bohemian Rhapsody hid inside of Queen’s singles enough that you felt like you took part in the inception of these songs, In The Dirt, “Home Sweet Home”, “Shout at the Devil”, and more come and go, as if the film expects Mötley Crüe fans to already know all about those. Yet, it didn’t expect them to know virtually everything else here? The Dirt comes off as true-to-form as the cover band Vince Neil sung for at the start of the film, more than it does the multi-platinum band it is actually based off of. At least it’s rock n’ roll (as in rock-your-chair-impatiently, and roll-your-eyes-too-many-damn-times).
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.