AlMOVIE “The Dirt”
WHEN|WHERE Starts streaming Friday on Netflix
WHAT IT'S ABOUT In the early 1980s, four rock-star hopefuls calling themselves Mötley Crüe combined heavy-metal bombast with androgynous fashion and punked-up tempos to create something both familiar and fresh. With energetic hits like “Live Wire” and “Girls, Girls, Girls,” Mötley Crüe took the reins of hair-metal, a much-maligned genre that nevertheless became the soundtrack for a generation.
When it comes to Mötley Crüe's legacy, however, the music arguably takes a back seat to the debauchery. “The Dirt,” the band's 2001 autobiography, details the alcohol intake, drug use and groupie-abuse that cemented Mötley Crüe’s reputation as some of rock's hardest partyers. The film adaptation of “The Dirt,” nearly 20 years in development, is now a reality thanks to Netflix.
MY SAY For rock fans unimpressed by last year’s bland biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” (about Queen frontman Freddie Mercury), “The Dirt” makes the perfect antidote. It’s a funny, foul-mouthed, whirlwind ride through one of the last great eras in rock history, when wretched excess was part of the job description and bad behavior was a badge of honor. Directed by “Jackass” showrunner Jeff Tremaine with all the nuance you’d expect, “The Dirt” is the equivalent of a strip-club mud-pit — a sleazy, cheesy, very guilty pleasure.
“The Dirt” introduces our four heroes in quick sketches: bassist Nikki Sixx (Douglas Booth), a young visionary hungry for fame; his first devotee, drummer Tommy Lee (Colson Baker, aka the rapper Machine Gun Kelly); sourpuss guitarist Mick Mars (a very funny Iwan Rheon); and singer Vince Neil (Daniel Webber), who leaves his cover band hoping for a better class of groupie. (Women, as you might guess, play only the smallest roles in this story.)
A rough rehearsal of “Live Wire” — a nasty slice of glam-punk — shows us why this particular band managed to rise above L.A.’s crowded Sunset Strip. Soon they’re signed to Elektra Records (Pete Davidson, of “Saturday Night Live,” plays A&R man Tom Zutaut) and managed by Doc McGhee (David Costabile). Apparently, Mötley Crüe’s level of misbehavior stunned even these music-industry veterans.
“I had managed the Scorpions, Bon Jovi, Skid Row, KISS,” McGhee tells the camera, deadpan. “But I’ve never been through what Mötley Crüe put me through.”
The hedonism has its downsides. Some of it we don’t see (the book contains passages too graphic even for this movie), but some of it we do, including Sixx’s near-fatal heroin habit and Neil’s drunk-driving accident, which killed his passenger, Razzle (the drummer for Hanoi Rocks). That scene’s graphic imagery feels almost like a rebuke to Neil, whose famously light sentence ended after 15 days in jail.
It’s a Pearl Jam poster, seen briefly, that reminds us of the winds of change. First came grunge, whose anti-rock-star ethos made Mötley Crüe look outdated and out-of-touch. Then rock itself began to recede, helped along by rap, pop and R&B. The behavior that turned Mötley Crüe into sex symbols 30 years ago would make them pariahs today. The band certainly savored the moment, though, and “The Dirt” draws it out just a little longer for all of us to enjoy.
BOTTOM LINE A delightfully disreputable biopic about some of rock’s last true bad boys.