Netflix and Jackass director Jeff Tremaine tell the story of Mötley Crüe in this biopic about one of the most notorious rock ‘n roll groups in history.
It’s an over-the-top trashy TV movie, says Steve Newall, and its flaws are just part of the entertainment value.
A long time coming, Mötley Crüe biopic The Dirt has finally made its way to the (small) screen via Netflix. I mean this next bit affectionately: this is an appropriate destination for a film that revels more in behaving like an over-the-top trashy TV movie than harbouring any cinematic pretensions, and can be enjoyed/hate-watched in more talkative, raucous, fashion than a movie theatre allows—not to mention the convenience of pausing the film to get a(nother) drink.
For the uninitiated, the band’s 2001 autobiography The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band is a
coke rip-snorting insight into Mötley Crüe’s excesses, one that revels in confessing how they were pretty much massive pieces of shit who then got the world laid at their feet (and then became even more massive pieces of shit). Many anecdotes defy good taste and imagination, which complicates an adaptation but rest assured, a number of key high/lowlights have made the transition well—witness Ozzy Osbourne’s poolside antics, for instance.
There’s tons of drug use, sex, and (almost entirely female) nudity, none of which come across quite as titillating as they may sound on paper, instead quickly taking on the tone of business-as-usual. Besides a detour into heavy heroin addiction, and enforced sobriety (lesson—it is boring if you’re a rock star) the toxicity of the band’s behaviour is seldom examined, least of all their self-entitlement as a group of white males who could get away with damn near anything, and then live to see this celebrated by this very film.
As their manager Doc McGhee (David Costabile – Gale from Breaking Bad) says to the camera at one point, “I have managed the Scorpions, Bon Jovi, Skid Row, KISS. But I’ve never been through what Mötley Crüe put me through”. Which is exactly what most viewers will be here to see.
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Strangely, seeing the four band members get up to their antics doesn’t paint them as terribly as I remember from the book, perhaps more cartoonish here than callously unpleasant. Then again, they’re not depicted taking turns to stick their dicks in a burrito so their girlfriends can’t tell they’ve been with other women, as the memoir memorably recounts, or engaging in onscreen hijinks that extend much beyond the sexual/juvenile.
Some very average acting is matched by pretty shoddy dialogue and semi-reasonable chemistry between the actors, but where these might hinder another band’s story, here they somehow make The Dirt a more entertaining watch—particularly when the film feels the need to hit emotional beats (not well) and chronicle the requisite music biz/career moments (as awkwardly as usual for a music biopic). In these instances, what would make a serious film falter works for The Dirt, as there’s always something watchable to pull you through these perfunctory or overly melodramatic moments, even if that’s the aforementioned average acting.
To be fair, the casting is decent. In particular, Machine Gun Kelly is a great Tommy Lee, all long limbs, goofiness, and seeming incapable of guile. Douglas Booth (who once played Boy George in a British TV movie) captures the smug sneer of Nikki Sixx, if without the sense of imminent threat to anyone around him, while Daniel Webber is OK as Vince Neil when strutting about, bonking or sulking. Iwan Rheon (Game of Thrones’ Ramsay Bolton) may be the best actual actor, but can’t quite nail resident grumpy old man of the group Mick Mars, even if he does land a bunch of solid deadpan punchlines.
Best thought of as a better-resourced version of made-for-TV fodder in the vein of Hysteria: The Def Leppard Story, like the band itself, The Dirt is pretty dumb fun—and that’s meant as a compliment coming from someone who owns Mötley Crüe records.