The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band, the 2001 memoir that Mötley Crüe wrote with journalist Neil Strauss, reads more like a deposition than an autobiography. But that was basically its selling point. In it, Tommy Lee, Vince Neil, Mick Mars, and Nikki Sixx candidly recount instances of extreme drug use, violence (domestic and otherwise), and horrific and legitimately criminal treatment of women as just the mundane trappings of fame for an ‘80s Sunset Strip hair metal band. It’s difficult to read that book without walking away thinking that Tommy, Vince, Mick, and Nikki are inherently bad people. And given their dispassionate retelling of stories like the time the band casually inserted a hotel telephone inside a groupie to amuse themselves, the members of Mötley Crüe are likely the first people to admit that they are complete shitbags. Hell, they reveled in it
The new Netflix production of the 2001 memoir, directed by Jeff Tremaine of Jackass fame, is a gauzy, by-the-numbers biopic in which the ‘80s hair farmers are presented in an overly sympathetic light, with the darkest parts of their memoir scrubbed from the narrative. Some of the most glaring omissions in Tremaine’s retelling of the Crüe saga stem from his inability to situate a realistic representation of the band’s debauched lifestyle during their meteoric rise within the awareness that the bulk of their behavior towards women was profoundly fucked up. One of the most damning aspects of Tommy Lee’s past is the six months he spent in prison for assaulting his ex-wife Pamela Anderson, but the movie doesn’t so much as mention her. He is seen punching an earlier fiancee in the face, but only after she stabs him in the shoulder with a pen and calls his mom a cunt.
In the book, Nikki Sixx describes women as “pests who were sometimes useful as alternatives to masturbation,” and that is generally how the women in the movie are depicted. The most glaring example is a groupie character who exists solely to hide under a table and give surprise blowjobs to whomever happens to sit down, sight unseen. Still, a depiction that omits the worst instances of the band’s behavior toward women, and overly glamorizes the instances it cherry picks, feels useless in the post-#MeToo era, where abuse and objectification aren’t waved away as rock star shenanigans. In one scene, Elektra A & R rep Tom Zutaut, played by Pete Davidson, breaks the fourth wall after Nikki Sixx has sex with Zutaut’s girlfriend. “Never leave your girlfriend alone with Mötley Crüe,” Davidson turns to the camera and says. “Because they will fuck her.” The line is clearly set up as a laugh break, but it sounds more like a threat.
The Dirt isn’t a faithful adaptation of the source material, but that doesn’t mean the movie is without its charms. It’s much more enjoyable if you pretend that it isn’t so much the story of Mötley Crüe as it is a fun TV movie produced by the CW about an ‘80s band bearing a faint resemblance to them, like if the Riverdale kids moved to the Sunset Strip and hung out in strip clubs all the time. The film offers genuinely funny moments, mostly coming from rapper Machine Gun Kelly’s portrayal of Tommy Lee. The Lee of the film is an endearing goofball who carries himself like a golden retriever puppy poking his head out of a car window, which Kelly plays with boyish innocence and an impeccable comic timing. This version is far more likable than the real Tommy, who made headlines last year after allegedly getting into a fistfight with his then 21-year-old son Brandon.
MGK shines in scenes that require physicality, like when Tommy is seen running through a hotel wearing nothing but microscopic leopard print briefs and terrorizing any unlucky guests who had the misfortune of stepping outside their room while he was in full Tasmanian Devil mode. Spike Lee-style dolly shots navigating a typical day in the life of Tommy’s tour partying also stand out, thanks to MGK’s commitment to the role. Douglas Booth (Nikki Sixx), Daniel Webber (Vince Neil), and Iwan Rheon (Mick Mars) do the best they can with the material, but don’t shine in the same way as MGK.
On one hand, The Dirt is a fun but forgettable film; on the other, it weirdly valorizes the actions of men who treated women like garbage. The biggest thing it has going for it is Machine Gun Kelly, who shows real promise as a comic actor. Hopefully, his future projects are actually made for these times.