There is possibly no worse-timed film than The Dirt.
In a post-MeToo landscape, The Dirt is the film equivalent of a Twitter egg spouting #meninist viewpoints to nobody. It’s a Gary Glitter song popping up on a Christmas playlist. It’s a Roy Chubby Brown VHS that fell down the back of the TV cabinet in 1999.
This, then, is the story of rooster-haired rockers Motley Crue, as told in their book of the same name. The Dirt was fairly shocking stuff when published in 2001, but the stories, deliberately presented as the words of four individual, unreliable narrators, were put forward as ribald fun, boys being boys, and appealed to a world still full of lads mags and lager.
That ‘fun’ involved a mix of the ludicrous (shagging burritos, snorting ants with Ozzy Osbourne, a competition to see who could go the longest without showering) and the deplorable (inserting a phone into a groupie and calling her mother from it).
And tellingly, there’s been a pick ‘n’ mix approach to what goes in the film version. It’s a sanitized version of The Dirt – the Slightly Less Dirty Or Possibly Less Legally Dubious, if you will – but one which is so out of whack with modern sensibilities it’s quite astonishing it was ever made.
There is a female character in this film who exists solely to sit underneath a table in a favourite late-night spot of the LA rockers and perform blow jobs on whoever sits down there. Women in The Dirt are either fun-ruining ‘Yoko’ characters, inconveniently getting pregnant, or happy to shag each and every member of the band at their whim. Forget passing the Bechdel test, The Dirt wouldn’t even pass a basic literacy test.
It could all be seen as silly, bawdy fun. And I defy anyone to not find parts of the film entertaining, being as it is a big, stupid romp about the stupidest band of an era. But what’s galling about it is that we’re meant to feel sorry for them, or see them as redemptive characters. Each band member, we are frequently reminded, has their cross to bear.
Mick Mars, played by Game Of Thrones’s Iwan Rheon, has ankylosing spondylitis, which required hip replacement surgery in 2004, and which is spoken about so seriously you fear he may be shipped off to a leper colony at any moment. Vince Neil wrestles with the fact that he killed his mate Razzle from Hanoi Rocks when drunk driving, as you well might. But hey, he’s a great dad. Nicki Sixx, played by Brit Douglas Booth, developed a bad heroin habit. And Tommy Lee, played as a surprisingly likeable shaggy dog by rapper Machine Gun Kelly, is afflicted with being Tommy Lee.
The makers were clearly searching for a narrative to take the edge off the bad behaviour, but The Dirt is a book that glamorised deplorable people doing horrible things to other people. The film was doomed from the start: condemn the behaviour and you lose the sense of outrageous fun that it was, presumably, lived in. Edit stories out and the focus falls on what was redacted. Leave everything in and watch the petitions for members’ arrests gather pace online.
If only in that sense, the actors, director, scriptwriters and everyone involved in The Dirt deliver on the legacy of the band the film concerns and their hair-raising antics. It makes you think: what the fuck did you all do that for?