The Dirt movie review: Netflix's Mötley Crüe biopic captures the notoriety, not the humanity, of band members

Bhaskar Chattopadhyay

Mar 31, 2019 16:09:25 IST

3/5

Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)

In 2001, Rolling Stone editor and New York Times writer Neil Strauss helped four members of a rock band put together a memoir titled The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band. That rock band was Mötley Crüe, and their book has now been adapted for screen by director Jeffrey Tremaine as The Dirt. Loaded with typical rock culture indulgences and debauchery while telling the stories of the four bandmembers, their friendship and the rifts over the years, The Dirt is a fine film for a weekend afternoon viewing, but that’s about all there is to it, because it never makes a sincere attempt to tell the more human side of its protagonists.

The Dirt movie review: Netflixs Mötley Crüe biopic captures the notoriety, not the humanity, of band members

A still from The Dirt. Netflix

The film begins with the troubled childhood of Nikki Six, Mötley Crüe’s bassist, who goes through abuse and neglect in the hands of his mother, a long list of stepfathers and a father who refuses to recognise him. He leaves home, changes his name to Nikki Six and settles in Los Angeles, doing small gigs in pubs and concerts. After many years of struggle, he meets cheerful drummer Tommy Lee, who is always swinging a drumstick between his fingers (even when he is in bed), who comes from a well-to-do family of mixed origins, and whose parents support his oddities with love and compassion. The two set about forming a new band, and the first to join them is lead guitarist Mick Mars. Mick later reveals that he suffers from a debilitating disease that is slowly affecting his spine, but this can hardly keep him from his music. The band is complete when Tommy takes Nikki and Mick to a party where they witness Vince Neil bring the house down with a cover version of Billy Squier’s ‘My Kinda Lover’, from the 1981 album Don’t Say No. Thus, the Mötley Crüe is formed – with Nikki Six on bass, Tommy Lee on drums, Mick Mars on guitar and Vince Neil on vocals.

The rest of the film goes on a high-octane wild chase of the four misfits and how they manage to stick together to rise to unimaginable levels of rock and roll fame, thanks to the sanity of their manager, and despite their free-running addiction to all known forms of drugs, alcohol and sex. We watch their depravities getting bolder and sicker, until in one show-stealing scene, the four meet the Prince of Darkness himself – Ozzy Osbourne – who descends to inhuman levels of indecency after giving them advice to remain sane despite their usual indulgences.

The members of the band keep falling in and out of love and relationships, while Mick battles his disease with grim silence. Coked out and yet performing high on adrenaline, Mötley Crüe tours the world and makes millions of dollars, spending all the money as fast as they earn it. But, good times – as they say – don’t last for long, and one seemingly harmless moment of carelessness turns their world around. Nothing seems to work for them after the incident, and the band slowly begins to disintegrate. Vince begins to crumble as he finds his only child ill in bed; Mick is told he might never be able to get back up on stage ever again; Nikki is haunted by his childhood memories when his estranged mother comes looking for him, staking a claim to his fame; and amidst all this, Tommy has no clue as to how to stop his band of brothers from drifting apart.

Another still from the film. Netflix

Another still from the film. Netflix

The film is one of the numerous examples of the kind of cinema that takes great pleasure in glorifying debauchery and then announcing that it had all been one giant bag of errors in logical, moral and ethical judgment. It never tries to delve into the psychology of the band members, choosing to focus on their notoriety instead. It is because of this one glaring flaw that we never quite seem to connect with the characters, despite their music being quite good for that era. Personally, for instance, I would have loved to see more of Tommy’s parents and how he balances his newfound narcotics-induced fame with their caring attitude towards him. I would have also loved to hear more of Mick’s story, and his battle with a disease that threatened to ruin his career forever. To put it in a nutshell, what the film really lacked was balance. It is natural for a film like The Dirt to be skewed towards the music and the ‘high’ life, but Tremaine’s treatment leaves much to be desired, and several stories untold — stories that could have made the film way more interesting than it is right now.

Among the performances, it is that of Colson Baker that stands out – as the easy-going, slow-witted, fumbling drummer of the band. Iwan Rheon is my next big favourite from the film – as the sombre and reticent guitarist Mick Mars. Douglas Booth and Daniel Webber play their roles well as Nikki Six and Vince Neil – a hurt son and a grieving father, respectively. If you have followed the music of Mötley Crüe, you will see how easily all four of them have sunk into the shoes of the band members and how deeply they have imbibed their mannerisms. But alas, despite all their efforts, it is the writing that never lets them raise the film to the zenith of its potential. This leaves us with ample doses of nostalgia from the '80s and '90s, but little else by way of good cinema.

The Dirt is currently streaming on Netflix.

Updated Date: Mar 31, 2019 16:13:48 IST

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