The Dirt (2019)
Director: Jeff Tremaine
Screenwriter: Amanda Adelson, Rich Wilkes
Starring: Machine Gun Kelly, Douglas Booth, Daniel Webber, Iwan Rheon, Anthony Cavalero, Pete Davidson, David Costabile
From the director of Jackass and Bad Grandpa comes the latest in a spate of recent biopics that are self-conscious of their own questionable testimonies, in this case the members of the band Mötley Crüe in their respective autobiographies, though The Dirt features little by the way of clever wit or deep thematic exploration unlike earlier genre releases The Wolf of Wall Street and I, Tonya. So, if you’re looking for unfiltered access to the wacky world of late 80s rock ‘n’ roll through the eyes of self-delusion, you should beware that you’re in for a pretty bad trip as even what little The Dirt does offer in this (or any) regard comes with a price: some of the most testing dialogue you’re likely to see this year and a yawn-worthy collection of the genre’s most overused tropes.
Relying heavily on a perceived enthusiasm for the film’s central characters, the band members of Mötley Crüe, as well as their music, The Dirt offers little by way of an access point to the characters unto themselves, almost impressively presenting each man as a silhouette of their real-life, tragically more problematic and subsequently more interesting counterparts to offer a watered down butchering of a perceived legacy that did its very best to avoid offending anyone linked to the band or the money it still makes from record sales.
Indeed to this point, a central story beat in the second act sees arguably the band’s most iconic member Nikki Sixx, played by a dour and frankly charisma-less Douglas Booth (The Riot Club), retrieve the rights to the band’s music, though it’s played as if a moment of triumph on behalf of the artistry behind the band’s releases when we have yet to be shown any inch of blood, sweat or pain in the making of any of their songs. It’s a moment that proves the poorly thought out conception of the piece – one that looks to celebrate the brotherhood and “good times” that the band created – placing this as a central moment in the midst of explaining tantalisingly more interesting stories revolving around overdoses, band splits and even the death of a child. It seems that Tremaine and the team behind him simply wanted to tell a story of the band’s want to “rock, man”.
Not every film has to be down and dirty however (even one with “dirt” in its title), and despite this clearly not being the intention behind The Dirt, there are rarely moments where the excitement, enthusiasm and spectacle of the real-life Mötley Crüe come to fruition either, the film languishing in a middle ground that makes even snorting cocaine from backsides look incredibly boring. By this token, the music is played out as if almost lifeless, the presentation of gigs and concerts being totally underwhelming, the spectacle of seeing such a noteworthy rock band being completely lost to the lifeless use of the frame. Only recently A Star Is Born provided evidence of exactly how to capture atmosphere in concerts, while over fifteen years ago the family movie School of Rock provided bursts of incredible music-focused momentum, with the lessons learned from both films apparently lost in this case. How a picture about a band with such an incredible discography felt this utterly lifeless was enough to make even the divisive and undeniably rushed Bohemian Rhapsody seem incredibly established.
Much of the movie progresses with little by the way of interest let alone stakes, nor does the speed, momentum, intensity or scale of the film increase with the band’s ever-growing egos and popularity. C-List 80s celebrities pop in and out as foot notes, with a character always on hand to introduce them to us, and the non-famous characters like the band’s manager are played with the utmost attempt at caricature, with this particular character coming across as a moron’s idealisation of a tough bastard while having zero effect on anything in the narrative. He, like Ozzy Osbourne – played horrendously with an Australian accent by the almost laughable Tony Cavalero – is present because he was in real life, though why we need to know this is anyone’s guess.
The Dirt is the sort of movie where you can see the shell of a good idea – there is no doubt that Mötley Crüe are a top source to mine for over-the-top stories and deep-rooted tragedy, for example – but it deteriorates into an ill-advised celebration that never once feels like a party. It’s a movie set out like The Wolf of Wall Street because someone thought that it seemed like a cool idea and a good way to get around introducing characters and plot points in any kind of meaningful way through the screenplay, not because it was intrinsic to what the film set out to do or because it had any intention of flipping our perspectives (unlike the infinitely better American Animals). The Dirt, for all its promises of wacky lives, 80s nostalgia, dodgy goings on and great music, actually offers very little by the way of any of those things, instead settling for a boring omelette of the worst parts of the lot, ultimately leaving a rather bland if not bitter taste in your mouth and thoughts of what could have been.