The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band is one of the wildest stories in rock 'n' roll history ever put to paper. Unfortunately, Netflix's adaptation just can't do it justice.
Mötley Crüe notoriously partied hard, but they also had to deal with overwhelming tragedies. It is difficult enough to get these dueling aspects right in any film, but the creative decisions in this adaptation of the band and author Neil Strauss' seminal tell-all did them no favors.
Director Jeff Tremaine (Jackass, Bad Grandpa), along with writers Rich Wilkes (Airheads, XXX) and Amanda Adelson (Worthy), tease an insane ride with very raunchy humor in the movie's opening scene. However, the film (simply titled The Dirt) then jumps right into a generic biopic format, complete with tacky narration, childhood trauma flashbacks and bland band-naming scenes. While these are key moments in the band's lives, there has to be a better way to portray them than the same ol' situations the worst biopics use.
After this slog of intros is under way, things take a slight uptick as the band finds success. The party antics ensue as Mötley Crüe tours, giving a glimpse at the escapades that the rockers are legends for. There's even a reenactment of the now-infamous moment on the band's 1984 tour with Ozzy Osbourne, where the "Crazy Train" rocker snorted ants, publicly urinated and drank said urine. This section is fun — albeit lowbrow — and works.
However, the lives of the bandmates take hard turns, and the film itself just cannot sell the emotional gravity need for them to land.
Vince Neil's (Daniel Webber) 1984 crash that killed Hanoi Rocks' Nicholas "Razzle" Dingley, the resulting vehicular manslaughter and DUI charges and the 1995 death of his daughter Skylar are all covered, but only in brief. Nikki Six's (Douglas Booth) overdoses and childhood trauma are given a lot of screen time, but just don't have the room to breathe and resonate. Mick Mars' (Iwan Rheon) lifelong battle with akylosing spondylitis (a severe form of arthritis that limits movement) is given only seconds, and Tommy Lee's (Machine Gun Kelly) rocky love life is basically a background thread.
After a wandering period of turmoil, the movie wraps things up with a pretty bow in late '90s, with no attempts to age the actors or end the band's arc on a particularly high note. The band reunites, gets the rights to their music — after only expressing their desire to minutes before — and wrap things up with cheesy walk into the sunset, or in this case, a stage. The ending seems forced and totally discounts the band's triumphant resurgence in the late 2000s ahead of their 2015 farewell tour.
As far as the cast, they do the best with what they're given. The young actors are a bit trapped in the film's uneven tone, and there's not much they can do to overcome it. The standout of the leads is MGK. Despite groans from onlookers when he joined the cast, his impression is top-notch and conveys the drummer's charm.
The supporting cast is an afterthought, being as there's barely enough room for the four band members' stories. The only exceptions are the stellar Osbourne impersonation by Tony Cavalero, and Pete Davidson's portrayal of Geffen Records A&R man Tom Zutaut. Davidson truly does all he can to make the the dweeby record exec caricature pop, but he is mostly assigned random exposition about the band's career status.
Even Mötley Crüe's music gets shafted in The Dirt. Roaring early hits like "Live Wire" and "Shout at the Devil" are given the soundalike treatment, instead of using Vince Neil vocal cuts. Two of the band's biggest hits, "Kickstart My Heart" and "Dr. Feelgood" don't even appear until the end credits. The later of those tracks is delegated to very end (placed even after the band's new song with MGK) and is merely an instrumental edit. There just aren't any big music moments that will particularly drive you to listen to Mötley Crüe once The Dirt's over.
The saddest part of the final product that is The Dirt is just that there are loads of potential on display.
This could have easily been boiled down to a "Animal House with rockstars" biopic that would be dumb fun. The material touched on during 108-minute could easily be expanded to a miniseries that allows each member's story to unfold properly. The film contains (but does not fully commit to) fourth-wall breaking moments that show that a Wolf-of-Wall-Street- or Big-Short- style of dramedy could work. Tremaine could have even leaned into his reality TV background to stage a mockumentary looking at the members' lives behind-the-scenes.
There's glimmers of promise throughout The Dirt, but Motely Crue's story just isn't done justice. Even though the title is just a Netflix click away, onlookers and casual fans of the band are best served to scroll on by and select another one of the service's music-centric titles.
Photo Credit: Netflix / Jake Giles Netter