Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. If there’s any phrase that can encompass “The Dirt,” it’s this one. One of the many defining qualities of the 1970s is undeniably the rise of the hard rock scene. Infamous bands like Van Halen, Aerosmith and AC/DC popped up left and right, entrancing audiences with their leather-clad looks, electric guitars and screeching voices. Across the U.S., wannabe rockers inspired by the coolness of “being punk” donned mullets and flashed “rock on” hand signs, fully embracing the popularized anti-establishment sentiments of youth culture. While parents sneered at the radical, loud and often over-sexualized lyrics that blared through their children’s bedroom doors, a musical movement was born.
In “The Dirt,” set during the hard-rock revolution, four men somehow wind up on the same path to fame, finding commonality through their love of music, attraction to chaos and ragingly high levels of testosterone. As individuals, goofy Tommy Lee (Machine Gun Kelly, “Nerve”), hard-hearted Nikki Sixx (Douglas Booth, “Jupiter Ascending”), ladies-man Vince Neil (Daniel Webber, “Thumper”) and the stoic Mick Mars (Iwan Rheon “Game of Thrones”) were all misfits. But united as Mötley Crüe, they belonged. Starting out working low-key gigs in L.A. bars, Mötley Crüe’s fame soon sky-rocketed, as fans went crazy for the band’s rule-breaking attitudes and buckwild personas. Immersed within their newfound fame, Mötley Crüe quickly finds themselves sucked into a vortex of hard alcohol, hard drugs and a constant flow of women, a world that both earned them a label as one of the most out-of-control bands of the age and ultimately put their loyalties to one another and their future as a band to the test.
As is evident from the massive success and cinematic feat that is “Bohemian Rhapsody,” there is a right way to do a biopic about rock music. Though seemingly trying to emulate the critically acclaimed story of Queen, “The Dirt” falls short of painting a comprehensive and thought-provoking picture of the Mötley Crüe, instead creating a jumbled and unappetizing blur of their antics and bad behavior.
For die hard Mötley Crüe fans, “The Dirt” may have a bit more appeal because at least then audiences can resonate with the band’s music, which actually takes a backseat role to the heavy focus on the substance abuse and sex that make up the majority of the film. That being said, for non-fans this movie is basically nothing more than a borderline pornographic depiction of rowdy rockers getting into trouble and coping with their inevitable spiral toward addiction. It’s not to say that the topic of addiction is not important to represent on the big screen, but the storyline of a band falling victim to the pressures of tour and the temptation of infidelity is a tired one. Further, the objectification and hyper-sexualization of women throughout the film is flat out problematic. Yes, the movie is intending to encapsulate “the way things were” at the time, but that is no excuse for the degree of female nudity and excess of minor female characters for no reason at all.
Central to the film’s shortcoming is allowing each of the four band members to function as equal protagonists. Consequentially, audiences are left with four underdeveloped, weak main characters, when audiences would much rather have just one strong one. Without strong enough characters to carry the film or add an unexpected ingredient to the plot and too much focus on the sex and drugs, “The Dirt” leaves minimal room for the rock ‘n’ roll and struggles to find its purpose and truly captivate its viewers.