On the first night that Motley Crew performed at the Starwood Theater in Hollywood, they got into a fight with members of the crowd. Before a song could be played, bodies flew off the stage and fists were thrown. Afterwards, a concert took place and a legendary rock band was formed.
The Dirt, directed by Jeff Tremaine (who last directed Johnny Knoxville in Bad Grandpa), takes the audience through the band’s formation, rise, and fall in the music industry. With reckless abandon, and fueled by the autobiography written by the band members and carrying the same name, the film pulls no punches and spares the viewer not one snort, pull of Jack Daniels, or band dysfunction.
The story is truly unique, which fuels the cinematic avenues a filmmaker can take. A runaway kid named Frank who changed his name to Nikki Sixx (Douglas Booth); a very young drummer named Tommy Lee (Machine Gun Kelly); an introverted “old man” named Mick Mars (Ramsay Bolton from Game of Thrones) suffering a degenerative bone disease who could really play the guitar; a tribute band singer turned frontman named Vince Neil (Daniel Webber). If they hadn’t gone with Motley Crew, you could have called them The Unlikelys. Four guys who crossed the I’s and dotted the T’s of what it meant to be a true rock n’ roll warrior.
One of the best parts of the film is Lee taking the viewer through an average day of a rock star on the road. Waking up at five in the afternoon, tied to a bedpost, and getting ready for the show. Sleeping with a groupie right after the show after you hang up the phone with your wife, and then heading to a strip club for more booze and drugs. The night ends when your devoted manager knocks you out before you burn down the hotel room.
It’s a true raucous and livid moment, which is a tribute to what Tremaine and screenwriters Amanda Adelson and Rick Wilkes (who adapted the novel written by the band and Neil Strauss) are going for here: entertainment. They are pulling stories off the page, which were ripped from the lives of the band members. There shouldn’t be any timeline discord or outrage like there was with last year’s popular yet polarizing Queen film, Bohemian Rhapsody. Sixx, Mars, Lee, and Neil all consulted on the film, helping the actors get their stage presence right and making sure their story was told right.
In this film, the musicians, not just the music, are the focus of the story. You see one band member tumble down the dangerous rabbit hole of drug addiction while another goes through women and a marriage like one would do while riding a Ferris Wheel. Mars, the quiet outcast of the group, always represents the conscience of the group: the compass as things swing out of control. It’s not hard to tell when things are going downhill, but the film never slows down or wallows in melodrama.
The actors all acquit themselves well in their roles, with Kelly and Rheon standing out. Being a real life musician helps Kelly slip into the wild skin of Lee, and seeing one of the greatest TV villains of all time in Rheon play a wicked guitarist is a trip that doesn’t take long to convince. Webber inhabits the freewheeling skin of Neil while Booth gets down and dirty with Sixx’s demons. Pete Davidson and David Constable are fine in supporting roles as the souls who had to manage these crazies.
The Dirt will make you feel every kind of emotion you would seek out in a Motley Crew biopic. The live concerts are great, but never overpower the movie. If you want an extended performance, throw on a live CD. This film deftly takes you behind the scenes, and doesn’t wander too far in showing you what the true life of a rock band member from the 1980’s is like. There is a voiceover tactic at play here, but instead of just one band member, each of them get a chance to tell their side of the story as the movie plays. All of them helped write the book after all.
In the end, the movie will entertain and inform you. Granted, I knew about the band’s music, but I didn’t know much about their story or what made them tick. The Dirt fulfills the quota of the trailer, never batting an eye or turning away from the ugly moments. Here, the cost is as important as the track list.
Fatal car accidents. Drug addiction. Sleeping with each other’s women. Way too much partying. Motley Crew did it all and then some, and The Dirt uncovers it all, sticking around in your head long after the credits roll. Like Bohemian Rhapsody, watching this film is like seeing old friends again, but ones you barely knew before, yet find out more about here.
These California wildings were dreamers, but they soared too early, falling hard to the ground. Seeing them rise up, and struggle with it, is what music biopics were made for.
Pardon me, I need to go buy a greatest hits album.