There’s a scene in the show Seinfeld when Jerry convinces George to open up and let out all his emotions. The next scene shows Jerry slowly backing away from George in horror as he says “Good luck with all that.”
That’s how I felt a number of years ago after reading The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band the 2007 biography of exploits as written by the members of Motley Crue.
That tell-all has come to the small screen.
The biopic, just released (March 22) by Netflix, hardly provides the same effects but captures the essence of the book with all of its smutty sensationalism. The drugs (lots). The women (lots). The music. All of it. Even the reported scene when Ozzy Osbourne snorted ants poolside at a hotel while on tour.
OK, not all of it’s there, probably best, like that telephone. And a scene in a closet. Read at your own risk if you care to inquire. But The Dirt the movie does a pretty good job of encapsulating the book and giving fans, or anyone simply curious, about a day in the 80’s life of Vince Neil, Nikki Sixx, Mick Mars and Tommy Lee.
Much of The Dirt covers Motley Crue’s rise to fame in the 1980s. I don’t recall everything that was in the book but it was clear they had to gloss over some aspects and eliminate more minute details to keep the film under two hours (1:45) and the pace moving. Regardless, like the book, you can’t help wonder, even before credits roll, not only how these four managed to write and record successful albums and tour for more than 30 years but how they were able to stay alive or out of jail. Well, at least for more than 19 days.
The film begins with a quick party scene that serves as a glimpse of the band’s heyday before focusing on the genesis of Sixx’s rebellion which begins in childhood with an out of touch mother and absent father. That’s not his real name, you probably know. Lee on the other hand came from a loving, nuclear family. After Motley Crue forms and finds success, The Dirt does a satisfying job showing Sixx’s fall into heroin abuse and the glue that I think ultimately kept the band together with the maturity (at least in regards to everyone else) of a slowly ailing Mars who suffers from ankylosing spondylitis – a form of arthritis.
The Dirt was produced by the band and despite however truthful or untruthful their exploits were, congratulations to them for not soft-pedaling past Neil’s run-in with the law resulting from the death of Hanoi Rocks drummer Nicholas “Razzle” Dingley in a pretty spectacular car crash scene with a drunk Neil at the wheel. Sixx’s drug abuse was protracted and explicit culminating as he flat lined in an ambulance. If you don’t tear up in the scenes covering the loss of Neil’s daughter Skylar you might be as heartless as these guys once were.
As for the acting, well, this biopic could probably make a bigger splash with better performances from Daniel Webber, Douglas Booth, Iwan Rheon and Colson Baker, aka Machine Gun Kelley, who played Neil, Sixx, Mars and Lee, respectively. Perhaps seeing “others” play four guys you grew up with and have seen perform live helped lose part of the charm (clearly you cannot have them play themselves as 20 somethings) but often, especially the first half, it felt more like acting school rather than skilled drama. David Costabile who portrayed Doc McGhee, the band’s manager, and Tony Cavalero, who played Ozzy Osbourne both put in solid performances and helped steal the show if you will.
Director Jeff Tremaine does a great job moving the camera and screenwriter Rich Wilkes manages to fit enough of the 448 page book to prevent you from asking more questions. The Dirt does not deviate too far from the present leaving you confused as to the timeline and sometimes features a character talk directly to the audience as Pete Davidson (of SNL) did, who plays Tom Zutaut, an A&R rep who eventually signed the band to Elektra Records. But, because of the sometimes jumps in time, the movie could have used more on-screen dates to let the viewer know the year and how much time passed. No actual vocal work like the successful Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody as Webber lip-synched, quite well, to Motley Crue songs.
At any rate, whether you got used to the acting or the actors slowly developed their craft as film rolled, much like, I suppose, the band did as they got experience playing, eventually you get immersed in the story and follow the actors as the band members. Booth dives into the drug world pretty deep as Sixx. Baker probably had fun executing the disorderly Lee, and Webber indeed shows some serious chops when he breaks down over the loss of Skylar in front of the band showing even the hardest of hearts and depraved minds have a chink in the armor somewhere.
The rest is history as they say and the film ends with side-by-sides of the actors in character to their real life counterparts.
And, despite the All Bad Things Must Come to an End tour – nearly four years ago if you can believe that – you secretly hope these guys might find a spark after diving into their past and maybe, just maybe, renege on their contract and return to the stage.