Mötley Crüe is arguably the most decadent, ridiculous band in a decadent, ridiculous genre, whose infamous excesses extended to recording the choruses of their songs on a different drum kit than the verses, just because they were bored.
Part of the fun of 80s glam metal was that people were throwing that much money at high school dropouts so coked up and lazy that they didn’t even bother to euphemize their songs about getting laid. They wanted to get laid so they wrote songs about getting laid and got laid — less because of the quality of their songs than the volume of their hair. It was the perfect symbol of the American dream as applied to the 80s, the entire genre representing the ultimate triumph of production values over content.
Which is why it’s so weird to watch a movie about them that seems above all to be defined by cheapness. The Dirt‘s wigs are bad, the acting is worse, and they didn’t even spring for Tommy Lee’s spinning drum kit. Honestly, they show Tommy Lee drawing the drum kit, but we don’t actually see it until the stock footage at the end. Isn’t this supposed to be a Mötley Crüe biopic? Play the hits!
The Dirt is, of course, based on The Dirt, probably the most entertaining “oral history” biography ever written, whose highlights include stories about Ozzy Osbourne snorting ants, people mainlining alcohol (literally), and the boys in the band pooling their money to buy a burrito to put their penises into to remove the smell of groupie so their girlfriends wouldn’t find out. The movie version had been in development since 2006, with director Jeff Tremaine from Jackass attached since 2013.
You’d think the guy from Jackass would be a great choice, and there are times in the film when it seems like he might be, or could’ve been under different circumstances. The characters address the camera directly between chapters, like a Jackass video, and many of the antics in it seem like a more misogynistic version of Jackass. (A scene where someone goes down on a groupie in the middle of a backstage party until she eventually squirts on everyone in the room, for instance.)
The smart creative choices turn out to be few and far between, however, starting with the casting. Douglas Booth plays Nikki Sixx, the driving creative force behind the band and the member with the most compelling backstory. (Or, at least, the most plausible excuse for the party monster drug addict he eventually became.) We see Sixx in the film begin as Frank Feranna Jr., born to a father who abandoned him and a mother who cursed him with a succession of abusive stepdads, until he finally hacks his arm open and blames it on his mother just to get away from her. The movie version probably lacks some shades of nuance, but this is The Dirt; sensationalism plays.