For fans of heavy rock music in the 1980’s there was a sub genre that divided us all, that being the L.A. centric ‘hair metal’ of bands such as Poison, Skid Row and the kings of them all, Motley Crue. Taking it’s lead from the glam rock of the 1970’s these were the bands determined to play the loudest, hardest and most hedonistic. To smash up more hotel rooms, to drink more Jack Daniels and to take more drugs than any rock star in history before. And for the ‘proper’ rock fan, more interested in the music than the image, this genre was often open to derision. Indeed, many who may rather see this film, to paraphrase The Sex Pistols, as The Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Cliché.
That, however, would be to pay scant regard for the fact that those bands the music did, initially, come first, something this film, based on the book written by the band and New York Times writer Neil Strauss, is at pains to make clear. Nikki Sixx, Tommy Lee, Mick Mars and Vince Neil are, first and foremost, talented musicians who created some of the most impressive music to come from that genre. And they took their music to new places giving, as they desired at the beginning of their career, a ‘stadium experience in small clubs’, preparing Motley Crue for the huge stellar band they became in the mid 80’s.
The hedonism is what Crue were known for though. The groupies and drinking, the drugs and debauchery, the fights and deaths. Something this film doesn’t shy away from in anyway whatsoever. Vince Neil spending time in prison after the death of Hanoi Rocks drummer Razzle. The death of Neil’s daughter from childhood cancer. The sheer and epic alcoholism of Mick Mars that combatted his degenerative bone disease. The drug intake and ridiculously cartoon bad behaviour of another toxic twin partnership of Tommy Lee and Nikki Sixx. The descent into heroin junkiedoom and ‘death’ of Sixx. All are covered here in glorious technicolour detail.
I recently reviewed the Bohemian Rhapsody Queen biopic with a criticism being that it was a ‘PG’ version of the story, at pains to hide the more ‘sordid’ details. This film goes the opposite ways, almost revelling in the bad behaviour. If maybe not showing pride in what happened, it does for certain not pull its punches. This is Motley Crue, this is what they did and you can take it or leave it. Because of that, the film does have the feeling it is being honest. Or at least as honest as a story can be, told by people who freely admit that they had to be reminded of what they had done after being handcuffed to a bed the night before.
This film is not without fault. Some are quite tiny, with the cameo of an Australian sounding Ozzy Osbourne being the most irritating. Some are more problematic with perhaps significant parts being downplayed such as Tommy Lee’s relationship with Pamela Anderson not being touched on at all or the way that some more impressionable viewers may be attracted to the ‘cool’ hedonistic lifestyle of JD and coke, ‘pussy’ and sexual immorality. Then again, that was what Motley Crue were, and this film portrays that very well indeed. Crue were about the music, but they were also about fun, living the lifestyle and getting rich and famous along the way. Not that there are no downsides to that, again something the film details brilliantly, especially the dynamic of four ‘brothers’ living in a dysfunctional rock family. Yes, the performances may border on cartoon portrayals at time, a bit Bill and Ted’s Motley Crue adventure, but that was what they were.
This is a fun film, but a fun film with a darker side. A film that tells it as it was, within remembered reason. A film that is well worth an hour 50 minutes of your time. It is also the best rock biopic, in a two horse race, I have seen in 2019 so far.