Netflix’s Mötley Crüe Biopic ‘The Dirt’ Is a Drug and Sex-Fueled Spectacle
The story of Mötley Crüe, one of the most influential bands to come out of the glam metal era, is told in “The Dirt,” a provocative musical biopic from Netflix. Based on the book of the same name written by the members of the band themselves, the film alternates between the point of views of bassist Nikki Sixx (Douglas Booth), drummer Tommy Lee (Machine Gun Kelly), guitarist Mick Mars (Iwan Rheon) and lead singer Vince Neil (Daniel Webber). Those interested in learning about the band’s creative process and inspiration behind hits such as “Girls, Girls, Girls” and “Smokin’ in the Boys Room” will be disappointed, as the focus here is on the outrageous rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle — the trashed hotel rooms, the drugs, and lots and lots of sex.
Like any musical biopic, “The Dirt” begins by showing Mötley Crüe’s origins and exploring the driving forces that lead each member to become a rock musician. For Nikki, music was an escape from his isolated childhood and neglectful mother (Kathryn Morris). For Mick, it was a distraction from his health problems. Vince’s motive is simple; he’s in it for the chicks. Lee, who on the surface is the most well-adjusted member of the band, having come from a seemingly normal family, is in the rock game purely for the love of the music.
The first half of the movie focuses on the band’s nonstop hedonism, particularly their sexual shenanigans. Surely no one would expect a film about Mötley Crüe to be remotely feminist, but still, with possibly the exception of Nikki’s dysfunctional mother, no real effort is made to develop any of the women characters beyond nameless sex objects and angry/jealous girlfriends and wives. None other than Pete Davidson plays the square here, record executive Tom Zutaut. He’s one of the many characters who gets to break the fourth wall and offer deep insights such as, “Don’t leave your girlfriend around Mötley Crüe. They’ll fuck her.”
The party slows down after Vince gets behind the wheel drunk and kills another musician, Hanoi Rocks drummer Nicholas “Razzle” Dingley (Max Milner). Further dampening the mood is Nikki’s heroin addiction. Next is a group trip to rehab, which is barely shown because, as Vince puts it in one of those fourth wall-breaking moments, “Feelings and crying and apologies… You don’t want to see any of that shit.” By the time the film makes any attempts to tap into real emotions, it feels forced and too little too late. The only serious scenes that makes any impact are the ones involving the tragic short life of Vince’s daughter Skylar.
Mars, who has lived a relatively drama-free life, stays mostly in the background here, though Rheon does his best with the material he is given, resembling something of a young Michael Shannon in this dark horse role. When it comes to Lee, it feels like the surface is barely scratched. Lee served jail time for a domestic violence incident during his marriage to Pamela Anderson, but here, his abuse of women is glossed over. Lee and the rest of the band’s involvement in the production could account for this failure to dig deep into the more unsavory sides of the drummer. It also hurts that Kelly isn’t on the same par as the other main actors, and his attempts to play anything other than happy-go-lucky fall flat.
Overall, “The Dirt” focuses on spectacle on the shocking. If anyone wants to know what it would have been like to witness Ozzy Osbourne (American comedian Tony Cavalero doing a decent impression) snort ants and and lick up his own urine, this is the film for you. But anybody looking to discover anything new about Mötley Crüe that they can’t already find in other sources will be sorely disappointed.
“The Dirt” premieres March 22 on Netflix.