Review: Mötley Crüe biopic ‘The Dirt’ as sexist as the band in its heyday
“Girls, girls, girls.” Mötley Crüe sings about them, sleeps with them, vomits on them, punches them in the face and can expect oral sex from anyone in a skirt in Netflix’s astoundingly tone deaf biopic “The Dirt.”
The film, which premieres Friday, is based on the group’s 2001 book, “The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band.” The book put the washed-up metal band back on the radar with lurid tales of bad-boy debauchery, a legacy built on the backs and bodies of women.
Remarkably, the new Netflix movie takes the same pathetic approach. It’s as if the film arrived in a bubble, unaware that the culture has moved on and that Netflix is brimming with content written, directed and starring strong women. In this horribly timed release, the debasement of multiple women is supposed to be all in fun — and funny, because The Crüe is having a good time and it’s rock ‘n’ roll, baby!
Directed by Jeff Tremaine, the story is narrated predominantly by bassist Nikki Sixx, played by Douglas Booth. Guitarist Mick Mars (Iwan Rheon), drummer Tommy Lee (Machine Gun Kelly) and singer Vince Neil (Daniel Webber) have their moments as well. No matter who’s telling the story, though, it’s as vapid and misogynistic as the band members and the book they wrote with author Neil Strauss, who had already done a groupie-abusing autobiography for Marilyn Manson. Strauss went on to create his own book franchise on how to pick up women and now helms a podcast exploring the murder of a young woman. Sense a theme here?
The movie “The Dirt” starts with the band’s humble beginnings, when Sixx meets Lee in a diner that looks a lot like the old Sunset Strip coffee shop Ben Frank’s. They find Mars through an ad in the paper; Neil is a buddy of Lee’s. They want to go in the “opposite direction of that punk minimalist thing,” so they play scrappy glam rock mixed with speedy punk rock.
Neil’s girlfriend sits in on a rehearsal, and when she yells over the noise that the music is too fast, the band tells her to “muzzle it.” Doesn’t she know metal is for guys?! The film doesn’t present displays like this in hindsight, with self-awareness or context. Their attitude is shown as an asset — the rebel spirit that made them such a great band!
Except Mötley Crüe was never all that great, and unlike N.W.A, Queen and other biopic subjects, it didn’t bend the arc of rock ‘n’ roll history. The Crüe was more like a colorful speck of sparkly dust between great artists and movements. Its pop-rock hits weren’t meant to stand the test of time — they were meant to Party, Dude! — and to remain tethered to a decade when Spandex was an adjective, noun and fashion choice.
The band had everything it took to be has-beens and were well on their way to that status until the book, complete with a braggadocio’s memory of allegedly having sexual intercourse with an incapacitated woman, became a best-seller.
In the film, the band’s trajectory is short and meteoric: They play the Strip, are signed to a record label, become famous and do drugs, which means sometimes snorting coke off the backsides of groupies. They hang around with naked women, a lot, but it’s understandable because when a film’s this bad, window dressing is important.
Audiences won’t be turning in for the dialogue. It’s as stiff as Mars’ hair: “Bottom line is,” says the band’s A&R man Tom Zutaut (“SNL“‘s Pete Davidson), “don’t ever leave your girlfriend alone with Mötley Crüe, ever.” Lines like this are supposed to pass as humor.
Tender moments are just as brittle. “I was in love,” says Sixx. “She was the sweetest thing ever … her name was heroin.” Blarp.
Then there’s the generic tour montage that looks pulled from Shutterstock.com: “We did a billion shows in a billion cities around the world,” says the narrator as images of Big Ben, the Statue of Liberty and the Sydney Opera House flip by like View-Master slides.
“The Dirt” doesn’t bother to recreate L.A.’s Sunset Strip circa 1980s here either, at least in any detail. The band members mention the Starwood, have meetings at the strip club The Body Shop, and we see a little of the Whiskey a Go Go and Gazzarri’s. Oh, and the girl under the table (yes, there’s more than one) does her work at the Rainbow. But we only know this because we hear them talk about these places or we see the names on a marquee.
By the time a Pearl Jam poster appears plastered on a wall somewhere in the production’s thin version of L.A., it’s sweet relief. The end of hair metal, and, presumably, the film, is near. We can return to 2019, where we can only hope “The Dirt” will be buried by its own glorification of a nominally talented band’s misogyny.