- The Dirt
- Directed by: Jeff Tremaine
- Written by: Rich Wilkes, Amanda Adelson
- Starring: Douglas Booth, Iwan Rheon, Colson Baker, Daniel Webber
- Classification N/A
- 108 minutes
The Dirt, the new Netflix movie about the MTV-friendly misfits Mötley Crüe, begins with a narrator’s assessment of the 1980s as the "worst decade in human history.” If so, the film is a product of the era it seeks to portray. Cheesy, overblown and laughable when it attempts to turn serious, The Dirt flaunts its ineptitude in a way the band itself would recognize. Rock 'n’ roll biopics can be mindless fun, but they never deserve to be this empty-headed.
Based on the Dr. Feelgood band’s raunchy memoir of the same name, The Dirt concerns the rise and fall of the glam-metal Sunset Strip hooligans Vince Neil, Nikki Sixx, Mick Mars and Tommy Lee. It’s the second in a parade of rock films that began with Bohemian Rhapsody, the critically-maligned but Oscar-winning story of Freddie Mercury and Queen. Rocketman, on Elton John, is set for a late-spring release, with films on Lynyrd Skynyrd (Street Survivors) and Journey replacement singer Arnel Pineda (untitled, from Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu) arriving at some point.
Bohemian Rhapsody was criticized for its straight-washing of gay singer Mercury. Of course, when it comes to its own sexual shenanigans, Mötley Crüe is literally an open book. The Dirt, directed by Jackass auteur Jeff Tremaine, embraces their hedonism with a middle-schooler’s glee. It would seem the Crüe sang Girls, Girls, Girls (a cheap and sleazy Beach Boys California Girls knockoff) with plenty of research on the subject: There are more bare breasts in The Dirt than in Hugh Hefner’s chicken-cutlets recipe. And apparently the boys liked to drink – you might as well give the Academy Award for best-supporting product placement to that bottle of Jack Daniels right now.
Bohemian Rhapsody also took heat for the artistic liberties it took with the truth. Were some of the historical details about Queen and Mercury fudged or even invented? Sure – but who cares? Myths are everything in rock 'n' roll, a business in which embellishments are protocol and where zucchinis are not for salad but for stuffing down one’s trousers. One poolside scene in The Dirt has metal god Ozzy Osbourne snorting up a line of ants and licking urine off the cement. Maybe it happened, or maybe it didn’t – Hollywood is above such petty accuracies.
Indeed, after one scene involving Van Halen’s David Lee Roth, cocaine and the Crüe’s manager Doc McGhee (played by David Costabile from television’s The Wire and Billions), Iwan Rheon as guitarist Mars breaks the fourth wall and any illusion of factual adherence by telling the viewer, “This didn’t actually happen.” Then, after explaining that the band’s co-manager Doug Thaler was written out of the film, Rheon closes the scene with, “On with the goddamn show.”
Unfortunately, the show is slick and sophomoric. The film presents the band as dysfunctional but brotherly, with each of the members flawed and/or hurting in some way. For example, founding bassist Sixx (portrayed by the fetching English actor Douglas Booth) fills the emotional hole left by his awful parents with the warmth and comfort of heroin. It’s typically melodramatic. However, the scene with Sixx as an angry child is crazily overwrought, like some jokey Twisted Sister video rescued from the vaults. Likewise, the tragic story of singer Neil’s four-year-old daughter is shameless in its tear-jerking.
As for the performances of the actors, Daniel Webber’s lip-syncing as Neil is thoroughly unconvincing, but Colson Baker (known professionally as rapper Machine Gun Kelly) is all boyish energy and loose limbs as drummer Tommy Lee. Clearly untrained as an actor, Baker embraces his amateurism with an enthusiasm that is palpable and perhaps even refreshing. We see him at his emotive best during a scene when actress Heather Locklear divorces Lee because of his public infidelity. When Lee puts his fist through a window, the pain and disappointment etched on Baker’s face is as real as the plate glass itself.
But maybe none of that matters. Maybe all that matters is whether or not The Dirt dishes the dirt. It does, but not in any meaningful way. Presented as an “unflinching” story of redemption, this silly-sappy film lowers the bar for to musical biopics.
At least Bohemian Rhapsody rocked us. All The Dirt did was make me want to take a shower.
The Dirt is available to stream March 22 on Netflix.