The Pitch: The pervy old uncle of rock autobiographies, 2000 ’s The Dirt charts the exploits of glam-metal antiheroes Motley Crue. Heroin overdoses, a Hoover Dam’s worth of alcohol, vehicular manslaughter, and lots and lots of disgusting sexuality are all common threads in a range of first-person interviews with writer Neil Strauss. After getting stuck in development hell for more than a decade, the film adaptation has finally come to fruition as a Netflix original.
Generation Swine: At the fingertips of screenwriters Amanda Adelson and Jeff Kapinos( and likely the band themselves, as they co-produced ), the cinema makes upon most of the big-picture, better-known touchstones of Crue lore, good and bad. Bassist Nikki Sixx( Douglas Booth) ODs on heroin and is declared dead for a few minutes, the inspiration behind the band’s hit” Kickstart My Heart “. Drummer Tommy Lee( Machine Gun Kelly) wigs out on his customized drum rollercoaster, Mick Mars( Iwan Rheon) battles alcoholism and anklyosing spondylitis, and vocalist Vince Neil( Daniel Webber) accidentally kills Hanoi Rocks drummer Nicholas “Razzle” Dingley while driving drunk.
But although the film doesn’t precisely illustrates Motley Crue as superheroes, it does notably leave out some of the key lower phases in the their narrative — namely their degradation of women. While the script never shies away from the graphic sexuality of the time, it never fully engages with how abusive and horrible the band expended their careers being to the opposite sexuality. The notorious phone incident with a groupie is nowhere to be found, and no, the story doesn’t even begin to tangle with Sixx’s admission that he and Lee “pretty much” raped another groupie by tricking her into having intercourse with them both in a dark closet. Lee’s marriage to Pamela Anderson and the infamous sex videotape and domestic abuse scandal that followed are also curiously absent; the movie aims before the two even meet.
This isn’t to say that there’s much necessity for a boulder biopic rife with scenes of sexual abuse and assault. However, The Dirt never bothers to ask any hard questions when it comes to the actual repentance( if any) of its rock star protagonists. The conversation around that kind of behavior is a lot differently constituted than it was even two years ago, let alone a few decades back. But rather than taking a modern vantage as an opportunity for evolution or at least subversion, the script flat-out ignores any aspects of the Crue’s life that might be harder for the public to accept.
Most of all, the film never asks its characters — and thus their real-life equivalents — to fully examine their life decisions, save for a heartbreaking hospital scene with Neil and his daughter, who died of cancer at 4. The surface-level filmmaking does the biggest disservice of all to guitarist Mick Mars, whose only defining traits are his two maladies. He never gets much to do, aside from going to the doctor and getting loaded in order to cope with his deteriorating health.
Saints Of Los Angeles: To be fair, Motley Crue and Strauss’ book never ventured into fully self-aware remorse in the first place. But across 431 pages, the hedonism becomes so effectively depleting that you can’t help but opinion it as a cautionary narrative. Reading it is like soldiering through the Blood Meridian of rock bios, the ugly-yet-fascinating cycle of sex and violence eventually merely curdling into wearines. And that was the( perhaps unintentional) message: Don’t be like these guys. Or, at the very least, that their lifestyle isn’t worth the toll taken on one’s health, intellect, and soul. The movie, on the other hand, simply gives you the band’s greatest hits when it comes to past misdeeds; enough to check its based-on-a-true-story boxes, but nowhere near enough to delve into any kind of meaningful morality — accidental or otherwise. At the end of the day, this is the Motley Crue prove, and they genuinely want you to think they’re the coolest, that any darkness and mistreatment can be forgiven in light of how awesome and wild the ride on the drum rollercoaster has been.
Theatre of Pain: The film’s defanging also lies in the direction. On paper, Jeff Tremaine seems like the perfect guy to helm a movie about a bunch of men behaving badly, as he already has decades of experience capturing the real-life grime of Jackass, which he co-created. Despite that franchise’s general love of silliness, its presents and films have always felt nasty and authentic due to the raw approach: the handheld cameras, the refusal to shy away from unwieldy closeups and bodily fluids. A similarly documentary-minded approach could have worked for The Dirt, but instead the camera often remains static, rendering what should be an iconic scene involving Ozzy Osbourne( Tony Cavalero) entirely flat. The graphic nature of the event is in place — there are ants, there’s a popsicle, and we do in fact find him snorting said ants off said popsicle — but it’s captured with such low energy that Steve-O funneling a brew into his own ass feels far more gritty and dangerous.
The production design doesn’t help, either. Like Bohemian Rhapsody before it, every outfit and adornment looks right off the costume rack or fresh out of the scene shop. Nothing feels lived-in. Even though the actors serviceably find what charisma they can in the shallow text, it’s hard to be believable under bad wigs, spandex, and a surface-level approach.
The Verdict: Any movie adaptation of The Dirt should feel epic in its scumminess — to the phase where you less relish the band’s lifestyle than feel like you need a shower after watching it. But its lack of energy, depth, and pure volume are, at the movie’s best, sanitized. Despite the long wait, The Dirt is nothing more than karaoke Crue.
Where’s It Playing? Streaming on Netflix.
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