Nobody turns on a Mötley Crüe movie in search of high art, and yet even the lowest expectations can’t help The Dirt. In the grand mythology of glam metal excess, Crüe’s exploits are the stuff of legend. But Netflix’s take on sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll plays out like every other bland music biography.
The Dirt opens with Nikki Sixx (Douglas Booth) waxing philosophical about the ’80s and declaring the band to be “a gang of fucking idiots.” The camera zips down the Sunset Strip to a party at an apartment. Tommy Lee (Colson Baker, aka Machine Gun Kelly) decides to go down on a woman in the middle of the living room. Sixx lights his arm on fire to show how badass he is. Vince Neil (Daniel Webber) is banging somebody’s girlfriend in the bathroom. Mick Mars (Iwan Rheon) lies in bed like a vampire. The intro climaxes with Lee’s lady friend squirting across the living room.
As setups go it’s extremely effective, though probably not in the way the producers intended.
It’s worth noting that good biopics are few and far between. The genre doesn’t allow for any real originality, and even the most interesting life stories come off as one-dimensional when they’re condensed to fit a two-hour Freytag pyramid.
That said, The Dirt fleshes out its source material (a sprawling autobiography with collaborator Neil Strauss) so superficially and ham-fistedly that the final product lands firmly in the biopic bottom tier. For the “World’s Most Notorious Rock Band,” this is one boring movie.
The film version does make some effort to be unique, breaking the fourth wall to tell us that some of the things we’re seeing didn’t actually happen. In theory, that’s a clever play, especially when you’re profiling a group whose own recollections of the good old days are muddled by Jack Daniel’s, smack, and the ravages of age.
Most biopics tweak history to suit the script, but what The Dirt offers is often closer to fiction than reality. That point is driven home by the picture’s insistence that Mötley Crüe were more revolutionary than they actually were, with an early guitarist marveling that the opening riff to “Live Wire” is “not like anything I’ve ever played before,” and Sixx speaking about Mötley Crüe in the same breath as the Beatles.
Beyond that, The Dirt’s glamorization of objective awfulness feels a bit tone-deaf today. (Some of) these things did happen, so scrubbing the shittier moments would be insincere. Yet tackling assault, infidelity, and drug addiction in 2019 requires some delicateness. If you’re hyped enough on Crüe to even start this movie, you probably don’t care. But given the third act’s dive into melodrama, you’d think the debauchery leading up to it would be portrayed with a more modern slant.
There isn’t much dirt in The Dirt, only surface-level scans of stories any metalhead has heard a thousand times, from Ozzy Osbourne snorting ants to Nikki Sixx’s death-defying heroin overdose. Those are of course batshit insane events, so the most glaring problem in cinematic terms is presentation. Bad wigs and worse acting combine with a cursory storyline to create a movie that’s neither informative nor evocative. The Dirt makes Bohemian Rhapsody look like a masterpiece.
Director: Jeff Tremaine
Starring: Douglas Booth, Iwan Rheon, Daniel Webber
Theater: Now streaming on Netflix