'The Dirt': Film Review
Heavy metal bad boys Mötley Crüe get a bromantic biopic that's nowhere near as transgressive as it should be.
In a scathing capsule review of the second studio album (1984's Shout at the Devil) from glam-metalers Mötley Crüe, rock critic Robert Christgau notes "one truly remarkable thing about this record: a track called "Ten Seconds to Love" in which Vince Neil actually seems to boast about how fast he can ejaculate (or as the lyric sheet puts it, "cum"). And therein, I believe, lies the secret of their commercial appeal — if you don't got it, flaunt it."
Flaunting it is all Netflix's Crüe biopic The Dirt, adapted from the band's 2002 tell-all tome of the same name, does. That's evident from the opening sequence, set during a raucous afterparty, which apes the vertiginous tracking shot from Boogie Nights (1997) and culminates with drummer Tommy Lee (Colson "Machine Gun Kelly" Baker) publicly bringing a gal to fluids-expelling orgasm. Guess now it's about boasting how fast you can make others ejaculate.
Such gleeful shock treatment becomes director Jeff Tremaine, the boor-teur behind the Jackass films and their spinoff series Bad Grandpa. It's clear he sees The Dirt as a distant cousin to those movies, especially in the portrayal of the central quartet as unrepentant man-babies whose eternal, if troubled, love for each other is evident beneath their every sadistic and masochistic action. The film shifts perspectives between the bandmates, which also include horndog lead singer Vince Neil (Daniel Webber) and brittle-boned lead guitarist Mick Mars (Game of Thrones psycho Iwan Rheon). But it's bassist Nikki Sixx (Douglas Booth) who gets the lion's share of the voiceover and the pathos.
Initially, there's reason to hope the filmmakers are futzing with the rise, fall and rise again structure that turns many a biopic into a then-this-happened checklist. Tremaine and screenwriters Amanda Adelson and Rich Wilkes begin at a fever pitch with Sixx's horrific home life when he was Frank Carlton Serafino Feranna, Jr. There's an absent father, a trashy slut mom (Kathryn Morris) and an argument/faux-suicide scene played so sublimely long and broad it comes close to redneck comedy.
The finest, funniest scenes in The Dirt are these kind of disconnected vignettes where you're stuck with the Crüe (heh) in some hellish situation that they make the best of by reveling in extremity. Best in show is an extended poolside hangout with Ozzy Osbourne (a hilarious Tony Cavalero) as he licks up his and others' piss (don't ask), as well as hoovers up some worker ants as if they were a line of cocaine (seriously, don't ask). A close second is Lee's Requiem for a Dream-like recollection of a day on tour, all the shameless hedonism blurring into first-person delirium. In both cases, it's as if we've been dropped into a memory palace caked in the bodily functions of your choice.
Beyond these standouts, the film sticks close to convention, with most of the highs (the charts-topping success of 1989's Dr. Feelgood) and hard knocks (Sixx's heroin addiction, Neil's vehicular manslaughter charge and the death of his young daughter Skylar) shown in short-burst scenes or via quick-cut montage. None of it adds up to much beyond painting the band, despite their often repellently bad behavior, in a flattering light. Good timing, too, since — contra an end-credits chyron noting their 2015 retirement — they've recently reunited and written new music. Keep flaunting, boys!
Production companies: 10th Street Entertainment, LBI Entertainment, Netflix
Executive producers: Rick Yorn, Chris Nilsson, Steve Kline, Ben Ormand, Michelle Manning
Cast: Douglas Booth, Iwan Rheon, Colson Baker, Daniel Webber, Kathryn Morris, Tony Cavalero
Director: Jeff Tremaine
Producers: Julie Yorn, Erik Olsen, Allen Kovac
Screenplay: Rich Wilkes, Amanda Adelson
Based on: The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band by Tommy Lee, Vince Neil, Nikki Sixx, Mick Mars and Neil Strauss
Music: Paul Haslinger
Cinematography: Toby Oliver
Editing: Melissa Kent
Premieres: Friday (Netflix)