Directed by Jeff Tremaine
Starring Douglas Booth, Daniel Webber, Iwan Rheon and Colson Baker
Now Streaming on Netflix
Written by: Ray Hogan
This type of movie is difficult to make and, usually, harder to watch. Motley Crue was one of the most notorious bands of rock ‘n roll’s most decadent decade. All the group’s musicians are still alive and anxious to tell their war stories to anyone willing to listen. Plus, an actor playing a living musician is much different than a typical role.
If you grew up with a musician or group you simply aren’t going to buy someone else playing that life. As good as their efforts were, did anyone think that Joaquin Phoenix was actually Johnny Cash, or Jamie Foxx, Ray Charles — or a close approximation of either?
“The Dirt” gets even stickier. Motley Crue was perhaps the most depraved bands of the already over-the-top 1980s and their tell-all, “The Dirt,” set a new standard — or low, depending on your point of view — in rock star biography. The movie was based on the book (not to be confused with bassist Nikki Sixx’s own book “The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star” (2007).
Given source material that includes snorting cocaine of a woman’s rear end, Ozzy Osbourne licking human urine off concrete, lots adolescent pointless destruction and, of course, girls, girls, girls, “Jackass’” Jeff Tremaine is the right man to direct. The initial backlash to the Netflix movie was so severe I intentionally waited to watch it. It was also way off base. In the same way you wouldn’t go to a 1980s hard rock album looking for technical subtlety, you shouldn’t search for much here.
Throw aside any preconceptions — and every fan of 1980s hard rock has them — and you’ll find “The Dirt” entertaining, comical, heartbreaking and ultimately empowering. The band would claim it’s about brotherhood but a third party might find that claim dubious.
Sixx states at the very beginning: “What do you do when you’re born at the wrong time? You make it yours. And that’s what we did with the Sunset Strip.”
The four actors that play the guys in the band are all superb in capturing their counterpart Douglas Booth (Nikki Sixx), Daniel Weber (Vince Neil), Iwan Rheon (Mick Mars) and Colson Baker (Tommy Lee) actually nail the roles with precision. Baker harnesses Lee’s unending school-kid enthusiasm (he was born to be a drummer and may have single-handedly invented ‘“bro” culture), Rheon plays Mars’ ambivalence subtle (he also looks like a cross between Don Dokken and Blackie Lawless), Weber does the majority of the heavy acting lifting given the tragedy that followed Neil’s career. But this is Booth’s movie. Sixx is the dominant voice in the movie and also the one who nearly derails it with the amount of time spent on his heroin addiction. He also comes off as an obnoxious self-centered prick until he finds redemption in sobriety. In the introduction, Mars is referred to as an alien. After viewing “The Dirt,” he and manager Doc McGhee are the only voice of reason.
Because the overwhelming majority of “The Dirt” looks back on Crue’s formative years, there’s an added bonus of the soundtrack being skewed to the band’s best music. There’s a scene of the band working through an early version of “Live Wire.” I am a sucker for any movie time portraying the creative process of building a song. And that’s the scene that sticks with me more than any of the bountiful nudity and debauchery. The re-creations of the tour footage are incredibly realistic, particularly the “Shout at the Devil” tour.
Sixx and Neil endure the most. Sixx, already an alcoholic, makes his introduction to heroin into an all too obvious dream sequence. He’s told this tale to death and even casual fans are likely tired of it. Neil, on the other hand, served 19 days in jail for the vehicular manslaughter of drummer Razzle (born Nicholas Dingley) of Hanoi Rocks 1984. When Neil returns to rehearsals sober, Sixx coerces him into a line of heroin. Great friend, isn’t he? Neil also lost his daughter Sklyar to cancer in 1987. The hospital moment between father and daughter is the strongest in the movie.
As stated earlier, by focussing on Motley Crue’s earliest years (the film ends in 1995, the band played for 20 more years), there’s an added bonus. Viewers are treated to the Crue’s most fertile creative period. For my money, their two best albums are “Too Fast for Love” (1981) and “Shout at the Devil” (1983) and the movie features a lot from that era. (Name a 1980s Los Angeles hard rock band that can fill a greatest hits album other than Crue. Ratt, for sure. Poison, too, but they sucked.)
For every reason to love “The Dirt,” there is likely a polar reaction to hate it. I loved it for a few reasons. Nostalgia was a huge one. The music was a close second. Motley Crue released A LOT of bad music, but when the band was on it was pretty near great. (See Below). If you still have an appetite for destruction, cum on feel the noize.
Motley Crue has released a pretty staggering amount of bad music. The “Theatre of Pain” album is pretty hard to listen to. To be fair, most 1980s Los Angeles hair bands put out their fair share of garbage. (Only Ratt and maybe two groups can fill a greatest hits album). That said, here are a dozen Motley Crue songs that rank very good to great. The only criteria was to stay within the time frame “The Dirt” covers.