Nobody really asked for a Mötley Crüe biopic, but Netflix made one anyway.
Director Jeff Tremaine’s (“Ridiculousness,” “Bad Grandpa”) latest work, “The Dirt,” was released Friday. It’s a fictionalized documentation of the careers of rock-and-roll bad boys Mötley Crüe. The movie is based on the band’s collective autobiography of the same name, but unfortunately, all of the poetry and emotional libido that made the book so beloved is lost in translation.
The film follows the life of the notorious rock group’s leading powerhouse members: Tommy Lee (Machine Gun Kelly), Nikki Sixx (Douglas Booth), Vince Neil (Daniel Webber) and Mick Mars (Iwan Rheon), as they rise to fame, abuse it, lose it and attempt to regain it. All the antics the band members were known for are present on screen, including under-the-table sexual escapades, trashed hotel rooms, casual laughs with Ozzy Osbourne and devastating struggles with heroin addiction. It’s high-octane ecstasy that moves at the speed of the group’s guitar riffs.
However, like many of the band’s songs, the sweet aura of the plot fades quickly and the demand for more substance is left unfulfilled. Each of the band members occasionally narrates from their book, which serves as an indistinct guide to the members’ conflicts and intentions. Luckily, a lot of these voiceover monologues are rich in prose and rather fun to listen to. But, when the high wears off, the scenes drag, and it seems as if everyone involved is just half-heartedly meandering through them.
The story mainly belongs to Sixx, whose anger and fractured family relationships provide the central dramatic arc. While Sixx wants to make it out of the manic sludge of his life, Neil is there to serve as the foil to his pulsating extremes — a devil on his shoulder that reassures him glory can last a little longer. There is no angel for Sixx. The closest thing he has to one is Mars, but his character is only given one decent monologue throughout the film’s 107-minute run.
Nevertheless, Rheon deserves praise for his small performance. He has the responsibility of portraying the only bandmate with even an ounce of maturity or wisdom, despite the film’s manifesto seeming to want to show off as much moronic, dangerous behavior from its protagonists as possible. It’s a thankless role, and Rheon’s subtlety helps the movie avoid many pitfalls.
Tremaine is also probably the only possible director who can keep the rocky ship that is “The Dirt” afloat. His experience directing the hilarious “Jackass” saga proves advantageous in this film. In fact, arguably the most shining moment of the entire thing is a riveting montage where the audience sees what a day in the life of the band is like. It’s gross yet deliciously over-the-top, somehow managing to make mouths water and skin crawl at the same time.
But “The Dirt” has significant missteps, too. The movie strays away from the true narrative of Mötley Crüe for no reason other than to make static events a hint less boring. The film even acknowledges this in a scene where the band’s manager punches out a doped-out partygoer, then immediately breaks the fourth wall to say, “This didn’t actually happen.” It’s a grin-inducing moment, but mutating reality — often a mortal sin in biopics — feels pointless. This is especially insulting when the movie decides to dive down the rabbit hole of heroin addiction. Cataloguing such a heartbreaking internal monster deserves tasteful nuance and a strong grip on reality. Unreliability is the last thing it needs.
There’s a desperate lack of surprises in this uninspired film. It’s the most formulaic musician movie possible and, worse, it doesn’t seem to care about its subjects. The apathy that went into making “The Dirt” is palpable. The voiceovers feel like cheap storytelling devices rather than valid additions. The pacing is inconsistent, and the actors seem disinterested in their roles. “The Dirt” is steadily unremarkable and callously calculated. It’s impossible not to walk away feeling disappointed.