SP Review: 'The Dirt' revels in debauchery, and kind of works

Arts and culture reporter Brandon King gives 'The Dirt' 6/10 stars

In the 1980s, bands like Van Halen, Whitesnake and Poison ruled the airwaves, and notions of both pop and rock were quickly personified as neon-clad bad boys who wanted nothing more than to have a good time, usually in Los Angeles. 

And nearing the top of every young kid's wall and concerned parents watchlist was Mötley Crüe.

While Mötley Crüe has never really appealed to me, the chance to see someone bring the absurdity of the band's history to the big screen seemed remarkable enough to give it a shot.

Adapted from the novel of the same name, written by the band with author Neil Strauss, "The Dirt" is meant to be a snapshot of four musicians who tried to party harder than any of their peers and faced plenty of demons in the ensuing decades. 

Does the film adaptation get the job done? Well, kind of. "The Dirt" feels too safe to tell the real story of Mötley Crüe, but every once in awhile it gets some real momentum and energy behind it that can make it work. 

After years of familial abuse, Frank Carlton Ferrana Jr. moves out to Los Angeles and changes his name to Nikki Sixx (played by Douglas Booth). Nikki is determined to make a name for himself in the local music scene and to give the people something they've never seen before. 

He manages to recruit a ragtag group to his cause, including drummer Tommy Lee (played by Colson "Machine Gun Kelly" Baker), guitarist Mick Mars (played by Iwan Rheon), and vocalist Vince Neil (played by Daniel Webber). 

After playing more and more club gigs, the band is approached by Elektra Records executive Tom Zutaut (played by Pete Davidson), who offers them a record deal, and they eventually hire legendary rock manager Doc McGhee (played by David Costabile) to maneuver them through the record world. 

The real meat of the story occurs after this when, swamped with the life of famous rockstars, the band members each face their own challenges. 

Mick suffers from a premature bone disease, Nikki gets addicted to heroin, Tommy goes through a series of rocky relationships and Vince goes to jail on manslaughter charges. 

I think the reason I wound up appreciating this movie was seeing the eventual bond that these four musicians develop for one another, and the four lead actors all bring something interesting to the table. 

Booth as Nikki Sixx makes for a good central character to follow, Webber as Vince Neil embodies all the tendencies of what you'd expect for a frontman, Rheon as Mick Mars is the quieter wiseman and MGK as Tommy Lee is the class clown who is fearless on screen. The bond between Nikki and Tommy is given particular attention, and I appreciated where they go with their relationship.

You can tell that director Jeff Tremaine, best known for his work on MTV's "Jackass," has a passion for the group's story, but even more so that he really wanted to embrace the structure and pacing of a lot of previous music biopics. 

This is one of Tremaine's first non-Jackass film, and it's pretty obvious he's leaning into tropes of past biopics. 

The movie utilizes common biopic devices — like hinting at the band's history before hard-cutting to another shot to seem clever, showing the main characters going against "the evil record company" that wants to hinder them and earning the credibility of an audience within minutes. 

Unfortunately, these ideas come across as impeccably standard and sterile. Moments like these take up a lot of screen time and make the movie a chore to get through. There were plenty of moments during the film where I wanted to bang my head, but not for the enjoyment factor. 

The film many times attempts to show on screen how insane these guys are and, again, sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes you'll get a scene like Nikki overdosing on heroin or the band and Ozzy Osbourne (played by Tony Cavalero) getting into – let's say – shenanigans by a hotel pool, and the scenes do feel pretty dirty.

But other times, such as the band's first gig when they fight the audience, the film feels like it's a little kid, begging to look like the cool kids it sees on TV. It wants you to believe in the filth, but the filth only goes so deep.

"The Dirt" basically succeeds in its goal: giving us a visualization of one of the wildest bands in one of the wildest times in music, brought to life with at least some energy to it. 

With all of its flaws, there's still an interesting story and character dynamic in there – in other words, there was a point in trying to tell Mötley Crüe's story. 

If you don't mind wading through some half-decent dialogue, drama that feels safe sometimes and plenty of biopic tropes, then you might actually get a kick out of this. I don't know if I'll be revisiting "The Dirt" anytime soon, but I think the end result deserves a bit of credit. 

Overall, I give "The Dirt" 6/10 stars. 


Reach the reporter at brandon.D.King@asu.edu or follow @TheMovieKing45 on Twitter.

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