All manner of bodily fluids, narcotics, alcohol, and carnal knowledge of the female body are presented in just the first ten minutes of the new Netflix film The Dirt, a biopic of L.A. rockers Motley Crue. Truly, everything even remotely hedonistic is spotlighted early and often (and unapologetically), and if it weren’t so cartoonish and ridiculous, it might actually be offensive. (In truth, I’m fairly sure it ultimately is.) “We weren’t a band, we were a gang of [$@!#] idiots,” bassist Nikki Sixx (Douglas Booth) snarls early on. And then we get just under two hours of solid proof to back it up.
The chronicled history of Sixx, drummer Tommy Lee (Colson “Machine Gun Kelly” Baker), guitarist Mick Mars (Iwan Rheon), and singer Vince Neil (Daniel Webber) doesn’t hold anything back, and (I’m sure) even makes up a few things along the way. As with most biopics, though, this is what ultimately leads to its failings, as The Dirt ends up feeling like little more than a profane, drug-addled, pornographic Wikipedia page brought to life—a lot of “facts” but precious little in the way of depth or introspection. It’s as if Cinemax made a Lifetime movie.
Director Jeff Tremaine certainly has experience in the world of men (mis)behaving like puerile idiots, having directed all the Jackass movies to date. And he certainly holds true to his calling. There’s no doubt that The Dirt is entertaining (even more so for die-hard Crue fans, I bet), hitting on all the key dates in the history of the band, from their early-80s formation through to their (first) reunion in 1997, but we never get any further than the tough, spandex-clad outer coating. Sure, hotel rooms are trashed repeatedly, and yes, there’s a particularly repulsive scene involving Ozzy Osbourne (Tony Cavalero), but even with a continuous string of clunky voice-overs, there’s nothing to give us any sense of who these four men are and what drives them (aside from vodka and women, of course).
As for the cast, Rheon is the only recognizable face among the four leads (his supporting role as Ramsay Bolton is forever ingrained in the minds of Game of Thrones fans). He certainly stands out among his bandmate compadres as the only one actually possessing some dramatic talent, but, in fairness, the other three aren’t exactly called on to do much except, for the most part, swill Jim Beam, look stoned, and say “dude” a lot. Webber does have a few decent moments to shine as Neil late in the film when the singer’s daughter is diagnosed with and ultimately dies from cancer at age four. As for stage presence, though, they all have it in spades, and despite obviously lip syncing the Crue classics, they throw their all into it and make the film ultimately (though only barely) watchable.
I’m sure there are those who will find The Dirt eminently more entertaining than the recent Bohemian Rhapsody (which played it far too safe) and the upcoming Elton John biopic Rocketman (which Paramount is reportedly trying to edit to secure a PG-13 rating), and despite the film’s faults, those people certainly have a point. Just don’t go looking for anything deeper than the water ring left behind on the nightstand in that trashed hotel room.