Director: Jeff Tremaine
Cast: Douglas Booth, Iwan Rheon, Daniel Webber
Watch The Dirt online in the UK: Netflix UK
Much like the recent Queen bio Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), The Dirt deeply suffers from the infamous condition of you-had-to-be-there syndrome. It’s an ailment that can strike films in many ways. Maybe you see a film in which all the cast “had a great time on set” but the film’s entertainment value is less to be desired. Perhaps, like Bohemian Rhapsody, the source material is so particular that translating it to screen is difficult. The Dirt, the hedonistic journey of Mötley Crüe, suffers from the latter. It’s clear that this band rolled around in some debauched filth – more power to them. But the cinematic version presented in this biopic is so pedestrian you get the feeling it was spat out by Netflix to get over the hump of development hell and get it seen as opposed to anything else.
The Dirt is directed by Jeff Tremaine, the producer and director of the deliciously disorderly Jackass series. Tremaine was also at the helm of all three Jackass films. It’s safe to say that something like this is not his first rodeo, in terms of either tone or production. Despite this, there’s nothing within The Dirt that rivals Jackass 3D’s opening montage, in which Tremaine and crew utilised Phantom high-speed cameras to great and hilarious effect. The Dirt is still as juvenile in tone as anything the Jackass clan have provided, but unfortunately, the film is tied down by weary biopic tropes and saccharine behind-the-music moments which ring false. This isn’t to dismiss some of the tragedy that has touched the lives of this band. However, it’s hard not to see just how shallow some of the film’s beats truly are.
One of the biggest factors are the weakly drawn characters. Despite some dedicated performances, Rich Wilkes’ screenplay seems to give each band member barely anything to work with. The filmmakers do little to plumb the depth of these musicians or the world around them in a way we’ve not seen better done in other biopics. Compare The Dirt to the muscular Straight Outta Compton (2015), which engages its characters not only with the rap music they make but also the socio-economical world they emerge from. The Dirt notes early on that the 80s suck, but never truly engages with the fact that the band in the spotlight are a typical creation of the era the narration claims to dislike. This may possibly be a point the film is trying to make, with the band being so obnoxious in their substance intake that they exist in a bubble of excess. However, when the film delivers the comedown moments for the characters, they never ring true. The film gives a sequence with Tommy Lee’s (Colson Baker) girlfriend, Roxie, far more impact than any moment Tommy Lee spends with his more famous wife, Heather Locklear (Rebekah Graf), despite the former sequence coming across as unsubstantial.
This one plot strand is indicative of how the film fails. Locklear is referred to within the film as the one who got away. While one doesn’t look for strong female representatives in a film about men who only see women as a form of consumption, the line is tin-eared because the character is so thinly depicted you could sell her by the sheet. Whether higher powers prevented the writers building on the character, or the filmmakers wanted to keep an element of balance between the four, the weak depiction of the people and their individual stories mean the film never finds its footing.
This glossy rendition of a bad boy rock band once again highlights just how revealing the documentaries of Metallica: Some kind of Monster (2004), Dig! (2004) and Anvil: The Story of Anvil (2009) actually were. Some kind of Monster, in particular, penetrates the strains and stresses of a successful rock band in a way that’s rarely been seen since. The Dirt never gets as under the skin of its subject the way Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky managed to in their warts-and-all documentary. If the band your film is about is meant to be one of the world’s most notorious, it would bode well if the film at least aimed to show the band was in that vicinity.
The Dirt is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.