The Dirt opens with narration that condemns the 1980s as “the worst fucking decade in human history.” Stupid hair. Shitty clothes. “It fucking sucked,” sneers Nikki Sixx. Moments later, Tommy Lee brings a woman to squirting cunnilingual climax in front of a crowd of cheering partygoers.
Yes, this new Netflix original film (streaming on the service today) provides a more fundamentally honest portrayal of Mötley Crüe in 120 seconds than Bohemian Rhapsody did of Queen in 120 minutes. But is it any good? Well, it’s what you’d expect of a Crüe biopic co-written by a guy who also co-wrote a Jerky Boys movie and conceived of xXx,and which was directed by a guy who finally decided to branch out beyond the confines of Jackass. The movie’s general aesthetic could best be described as “that guy Seann William Scott played in Old School” — neither compliment nor critique on its face.
That The Dirt’s excesses grow tiresome by the halfway mark also seems sufficiently representative of its subjects. Adapted from the band’s same-name tell-all (or, more to the point, tell-all-they-could-remember), The Dirt doesn’t pretend that Crüe matters much beyond a financially shrewd, occasionally enjoyable mixture of schlock, shock and cock rock. Its conceit of having the band members derisively refer to each other as “bass player” or “drummer” suggests their music was more of a function to good feelings than any sort of classic composition. “Home Sweet Home” has a pretty melody and all, but these guys were in it for the fist pumping and the fisting.
No word on whether anyone in the Crüe participated in that specific sex act, but The Dirt’s depiction of their debauchery makes room for quite a few others. For example, it suggests singer Vince Neil (Daniel Webber of Netflix’s The Punisher, and the cast’s most live-wire standout) decided to join the band while getting a blowjob, and that bassist Sixx (Douglas Booth of Jupiter Ascending) made … well, maybe not loveper se, but something to Lee’s fiancée backstage before he knew who she was.
Perma-scowled guitarist Mick Mars (Iwan Rheon, formerly Ramsay Bolton on Game of Thrones) almost certainly had sex in real life, but I don’t recall seeing him do it in the movie. Instead, Rheon plays “the alien” of the group, a withering-insult machine good for a few laughs. (I also didn’t know Mars had a degenerative medical condition. The filmmakers only know slightly more about that, showing Mars struggle to stand up from a chair a couple of times and then getting a bionic hip.)
David Costabile (Breaking Bad) turns up as the Crüe’s manager, who had “seen some shit” but nothing like what they did. Tony Cavalero partakes of an unforgettably gross poolside buffet of bodily fluids in a one-and-done appearance as Ozzy Osbourne, for whom Crüe once opened on tour. Pete Davidson of Saturday Night Live plays an eager Elektra Records executive. For a while, the movie coasts on the puckish energy of its cast’s enthusiastic play-acting and its narrative’s headlong hedonism.
Suggesting that a Mötley Crüe biopic, of all things, is somehow beneath the use of his stage name Machine Gun Kelly, Colson Baker plays drummer Lee as a sort of aw-shucks beanpole goober … until the moment he physically assaults a woman. The Dirt can only reckon with that through a brief intrusion of “dramatic” music. Minutes later, Lee confuses Heather Locklear for Heather Thomas in a scene meant for laughs, and no mention is again made of his rage or violence.
It’s hardly a surprise that The Dirt is more #WeCrüe than #MeToo, but it sidesteps any controversial exploits that threaten to pop the balloon of fun. The screenplay perfunctorily presents, and then plays off, Neil’s drunk-driving accident that killed the drummer for the band Hanoi Rocks. You’d think director Jeff Tremaine might reckon more strongly with this recklessness given Jackass staple Ryan Dunn’s similar death in a real-life wreck. But Neil simply shouts that it could’ve happened to any of them before snorting away his sorrows. A savvier dramatic director might have considered how sobriety became sewn into the band’s skin as if by the hand of a tremulous surgeon. Tremaine is instead content to shovel The Dirt from one biopic beat to the next — a familiar mood into which it eventually calms and caves as the usual issues and indignities present themselves. (My favorite shot: A Pearl Jam banner signifying both a passage of timeand glam rock’s decline.)
By the time Sixx references his life’s greatest love by saying “and her name … was heroin,” you’ll either ride out this tonal rollercoaster between Straight Outta Compton and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story or step out of line for another streaming option. During its final moments, The Dirt certainly hatches a looper, less convincing theme of familial bonding than anything you’d find in a Fast & Furious movie.
As was the case with Brian May and Roger Taylor for Rhapsody, the band members serve as producers here. Is Mötley Crüe counting on Netflix’s global ubiquity to prop up a few more financially lucrative tours as the surviving members of Queen have done with their film’s success and acclaim? Probably. For all its faithful depictions of the Crüe lifestyle, The Dirt winds up feeling like the same ol’, same ol’ situation.