The Dirt opens with a groupie being pleasured in graphic detail by a member of Mötley Crüe as others cheer on the action. It does not start with a groupie being gang-banged by roadies while members of Mötley Crüe cheer on the action. That explains a lot about The Dirt – which hits Netflix as a Crüe-approved adaptation of the band’s 2001 biography written by Neil Strauss.
The Dirt doesn’t have the impact of an important Netflix production, though. The inherent challenge is to beat the breezy stylings of those VH1 “Movies That Rock” biopics. That’s easy enough, but too much of The Dirt plays more like a bunch of actors playing dress-up. None of them even seem dedicated enough to actually grow out their hair for the roles.
That veneer of artificiality also makes it easier to dwell on the movie’s many questionable omissions. The Dirt doesn’t show any more respect for the band’s history than any VH1 version would attempt. Plenty of true facts get discarded in favor of telling a glossier Hollywood success story.
Some other good dirt gets obscured in the name of petty vengeance, and the whole story takes place on an alternate Earth where Pamela Anderson never left British Colombia for Los Angeles. Heather Locklear gets some screen time, but The Dirt doesn’t have the patience to dwell on intensely personal drama. The title of The Dirt strictly refers to rockin’ bad boy behavior. Any truly uncomfortable or awkward moments from the Crüe careers have been deftly rewritten.
The only cinematic moment involves Vince Neil’s manslaughter charge, with the vehicular homicide of Hanoi Rocks’ drummer Razzle recreated in impressive fashion. The rest of The Dirt is just Netflix revisiting Cloverfield Paradox territory – as if someone decided they had a really good TV-movie that could be salvaged by adding in all the wild stuff that the Queen members kept out of Bohemian Rhapsody.
The Dirt also isn’t brave enough to settle for capturing a real time and a place. Boogie Nights covered decades because it was telling a fairly fact-based story that still offered up redemption after tragedy. Directed by Jeff Tremaine (the Jackass franchise), The Dirt crams decades into a blur because it ultimately wants to be a Dr. Feelgood movie about aging rockers who turned out okay. There’s probably a corporate memo somewhere saying that gals can’t get hit by rock stars unless the band members officially grow older and wiser.
The worst thing about The Dirt is that the movie probably means that we won’t get a film of the recently republished The Heroin Diaries. That epic had Nikki Sixx telling his own story of ’80s debauchery in real time, with added caustic commentary from the related players. Nikki admits lying to his own diary about his addictions in that one, but that also makes the book seem even more startlingly honest.
The Heroin Diaries also concentrates on 1987, with Nikki being nicely sardonic about his own happy endings in the aftermath of his relatively worst year. That could really tell an epic story worthy of Mötley Crüe. The Dirt offers up some horrific moments, but finally feels as calculated as Howard Stern’s Private Parts.