Last night I convinced my wife we had to watch the new Mötley Crüe biopic The Dirt on Netflix . I think I might owe her two hours of her life back. Now don’t get me wrong, when I was 10-15 years old I was a huge Mötley Crüe fan and even saw them on their Girls, Girls, Girls tour. Both my wife and I read the book the movie was based on because let’s face it: The Crüe might be one of the greatest guilty pleasures from the 80’s we can all agree upon.
Having read the book and watched the trailer for the movie it’s not like we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. The recent spat of successful “music-themed” movies like Boyz in The Hood, Bohemian Rhapsody, A Star Is Born, and the soon-to-be-released Elton John pic Rocketman (pretty much guaranteed to be a hit) has the public ripe for rock nostalgia. Enter Mötley Crüe’s 80’s LA Glamy Cock Rock. I am a sucker for most any music doc/movie/parody. The problem is, The Dirt isn’t a parody but it certainly comes off like one. Kind of like Mötley Crüe themselves.
First, let me defend the Crüe for a moment. Like them or not, they were/are a hugely successful hard rock band that sold millions of records, “fucked a lot of chicks”, and even wrote some music. Nikki Sixx, the band’s leader/bassist/songwriter, has always seemed like one of those rock stars you kinda want to hate (and usually do) but if you met him you’d probably be like, “you know, he’s actually not that bad.” And he did write some pretty solid pop-rock songs. Even if you despise this band you probably already know some of the legendary rock star mythos that makes up a good chunk of the film: the Tommy Lee/Pamela Anderson’s Sex Tape (not actually addressed in the movie), Nikki Sixx OD’ing on heroin (twice) and dying-then-coming-back-to-life, Vince Neil killing someone in a drunken car crash (and only doing 15 days in jail) and having his young daughter tragically die of cancer, or Mick Mars just being weird (and having a horrible spinal disease and seemingly being the only one in the band with any sense of ethics or morals). There is so much back story with this band they could have made an entire series about them. Thankfully for us they didn’t, bro.
Now, let’s talk about the movie a little bit. This is not really a review/critique of the movie itself because it was a “fun watch” but by no means a good movie. Considering that the script was probably written in crayon the actors did the best they could with what they had. Whether it be the bad lip syncing, the overly emotive Nikki Sixx storyline, Tommy Lee’s ridiculous bro-dude-ness, or the ever-so-sour Mick Mars, none of these guys are likable and certainly not characters you’d root for. I suppose the one good thing the story has going for it is that the band play both pro and antagonists at the same time. Convenient. Also convenient is how the movie quickly glides over the more scandalous elements of their story like Tommy Lee’s domestic assaults on various women/arrests, Nikki Sixx’s in-retrospect-maybe-I-did-rape-a-girl-once realization, or the trail of broken homes these guys left behind in the name of “rock and roll, dude!” (somewhat addressed via an interesting casting of Pete Davidson as an Elektra Records company lackey who’s only main purpose is to be cuckolded while trying to keep the bands career afloat).
There is nothing new here in terms of the biopic tropes: band forms, band has early struggles, band breaks through and hits it big, band lives the dream, the dream falls apart as a result of egos, drugs, money, band breaks up, band finally realizes how import the “family” is, band reforms and live happily ever after. Sort of. It’s not too far off from Henry Hill’s story that Good Fellas is based on except instead of slick gangsters the Crüe come off like a bunch of over-sexed narcissists.
It’s hard to forget in this day and age just how debaucherous the LA music scene was during the late 70’s – late 80’s. Being that Mötley Crüe were one of the biggest bands to come out of that scene it makes sense that this movie would at least be entertaining and green lit for public consumption. To many, bands today are too safe/PC, too “un-fun” and unwilling to embrace the rock star lifestyle. “We need to put on a show” Nikki tells the band early on. He’s not wrong, and they do put on quite a spectacle. The show gets out of hand, both on and off stage, and watching the train-wreck is engaging enough until the moment you realize just how deplorable these guys are. That is, if you can see past all the fake cocaine, booze, and heroin that is onscreen as much as the band members themselves.
Mötley Crüe live on in many peoples lives as a representation of what hard rock music was like “back in the day” when bands were fun and truly did live by the sex, drugs, and rock and roll ethos. The problem is, in 2019, it’s hard to watch this type of behavior and not feel embarrassed for the now 50-something members of the band, or more-so, their kids. In the early and mid-80’s when Mötley Crüe and Van Halen ruled the charts with their fun party rock style almost everyone was on board with it (after all, this wasn’t too long after Led Hammer of the Gods Zeppelins run as the most mythicized party band in the world). No one in the band was thinking about how it was going to look when the bio pic came out 30 years later. But maybe they should’ve. Then again, if they did, then we wouldn’t have the joy of watching a behind-the-scenes peak into one of the most hedonistic and unintentionally funny (and tragic) bands of the era.