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Musical biopics feel on trend as of late, with last year's Bohemian Rhapsody becoming a gigantic success at the box office and plenty more musical content like Rocketman on the way. However, even the Queen story felt like it was told with a bit of a light touch -- which only highlights how hard it can be to really nail the formula. And it looks like another example of the formula gone lukewarm has hit our doorstep with The Dirt, a film on the formation and history of the band Mötley Crüe.
The Dirt, named after the best selling autobiography co-written by the band itself, shows its members as a collection of misfits ready to make music for the masses. Formed in 1981, Mötley Crüe (played in the movie by Douglas Booth, Colson Baker, Daniel Webber, and Iwan Rheon) rocked the world with hits like “Shout At The Devil,” “Home Sweet Home,” and “Girls Girls Girls.” Their history as a band, and their personal lives during that same stretch, were as tumultuous as you'd expect, as everything from addiction to death plagued the group during their halcyon days.
As far as biopics go, The Dirt starts off promisingly enough, with multiple members of the band being allowed to narrate the story as it unfolds. There's even an undercurrent of cheeky humor and breaking of the fourth wall that looks to help make director Jeff Tremaine's entry into the genre a bit of a stand out. For a while, the formation of the band and their crazy early days entertains, with the entire cast game to reenact some rather wild stuff.
This is where The Dirt shines at its best, as Tremaine's background as the director of the Jackass movies really helps get across the sense of humor that Mötley Crüe had about their music and their lives. Playing as a sort of hair metal version of The Wolf of Wall Street, the drugs, debauchery, and property damage are depicted with an impish glee that actually milks some laughter out of the proceedings.
Unfortunately, much like the story The Dirt tells about the band, the fun doesn't last for long and the really tormented stuff starts to kick in. This is also the exact point that the film starts to fall apart, as the dramatic struggles of the band are executed in a manner that's glossy at best and undermining at their worst. Whereas you could really feel the fun and camaraderie of Mötley Crüe's early days, their setbacks aren't as empathetically handled.
Serious moments pertaining to the deaths, bickering, and a variety of grounded downers that hit the band's fortunes feel like they're being played in the most melodramatic fashion possible. Rather than being used as moments to endear the band to the viewer, or even to elicit emotion from them, they're included because any standard biopic like The Dirt requires them to happen before the third act redemption kicks in.
By the time the true lows of the band's story have begun, it feels like the worst parts of Bohemian Rhapsody have influenced The Dirt in all of the wrong ways. The big difference between the two films is, obviously, that this one had the benefit of a singular director's vision guiding it. Which is all the more vexing, considering Jeff Tremaine has extensive background in presenting both real and fictitious personalities very similar to that of Nikki Sixx and the rest of Mötley Crüe's members. As his first true-to-life narrative, The Dirt is a milquetoast effort from someone whose best work has always been at full volume.
So long as celebrities lead lives of colorful distinction, there will always be a market for a good biopic. But if those stories are treated with the same reverence and kid gloves as this film treats its subject, then said market might close up sooner than we expected. If The Dirt had better blended the highs and the lows of the band, Mötley Crüe might have had a biopic to be proud of. Unfortunately, the efforts put forth on this film has it resembling a Theatre of Pain more than a visit from Dr. Feelgood.