The Dirt, a Netflix original that charts the rise and fall and rise of legendary glam rockers Mötley Crüe, is a remarkably tame adaptation of one of the wildest stories in music.
The film still chronicles the band’s horrible behavior or the tragedies of their own lives; you’ll see various members of Mötley Crüe hit women, kill another musician in a car accidents, die (temporarily) from a drug overdose, suffer from arthritis, and lose a child to cancer. And it’s all done while they treat everyone in their lives with contempt! In the end, making the story feel so flat is something of a feat.
The band, made up of singer Vince Neil (Daniel Webber), guitarist Mick Mars (Iwan Rheon), bassist Nikki Sixx (Douglas Booth), and drummer Tommy Lee (Machine Gun Kelly, apparently?), are all played like lovable scamps who just can’t say no to another woman or another line of blow. Jeff Tremaine, of Jackass fame, directs each scene the subtlety of a school play. The only actor who looks like they’re having any fun is Iwan Rheon, who plays Mick Mars as a lumbering, deadpan presence with very little interest in the insanity around him.
The film is based on the book of the same name, and in more talented hands the adaptation might have been a fascinating, hellish look at what happens when three guys who have holes inside themselves that no amount of money, drugs, or ruined lives left in their wake can fill team up with another guy who just wants to play the guitar.
But instead it looks like a made-for-TV movie where no one trusted the audience to understand that watching Ozzy Osbourne lapping up someone else’s urine is gross, so we have to have reaction shots of Mötley Crüe reacting with disbelief and ... joy? It’s shot and edited like Tremaine’s Jackass film, which means that long stretches of story are made up of disconnected scenes of something wild happening, punctuated by the members of the band watching each other and laughing about how great this all is.
The entire experience felt like someone was trying to impress me with sad stories from college, except each one was being acted out by somewhat talented high school students. Everyone involved seems completely out of their depth during the scenes where real emotions are supposed to land, such as the death of Neil’s four year-old daughter to cancer.
The fun times don’t look fun, the bad times look campy, and the in-between times have just been removed. What’s left is a dire but tedious look at people behaving badly, with none of the weight of the source material.
The fact that none of the original members of the band are dead is a miracle, especially after they spent so many years trying to destroy themselves in as many ways as possible. It’s perhaps a more impressive feat that someone managed to make such a limp movie out of the story.