Musical bio-pics are always welcome to ascend above the production value of Lifetime movies and VH1’s Behind the Music, but not all accept the invitation for the elevation. Netflix’s The Dirt runs, kicking and screaming, away from any semblance of quality and depth, but is partially saved by some decent performances and larger than life characters.
Based on the book of the same name written by the band members themselves, The Dirt chronicles the formation, rise to stardom, and childish antics of the glam rock royalty Mötley Crüe. Because of the band’s close relationship to the film’s production (all four members are listed as co-producers) it’s not surprising to see that the film paints each of them in a sympathetic light. This is not the kind of music bio-pic to offer insight into nuanced characters, or examine how truly destructive their behavior was to those around them. No, this just shows a bunch of wildly successful and juvenile guys doing dumb and dangerous things while thinking they’re really cool.
And who better to direct a film about a bunch of juvenile guys doing dumb and dangerous things while thinking they’re really cool than the man who brought us Jackass: The Movie, and Jackass Number Two , and the Academy Award nominated Bad Grandpa? Jeff Tremaine, the longtime collaborator with those skateboarding hooligans, takes just as much care with our Crüe. Though it might be possible to overlook the fabrications in the story and some slightly wooden performances, it’s difficult to see beyond the fact that there’s nothing cinematic about The Dirt. The cinematography does nothing to embrace the potential of the medium and it all looks perfectly at home on the small screen. This is the rare movie that loses nothing being watched on a teeny tablet or phone screen.
The Dirt also seems aggressively intent on ignoring any potential in women as human beings or characters with feelings or their own motivations. To put it crudely, it’s a rare occurrence for any woman to be more than a few holes and some boobs. It’s very possible to make a movie about misogynist characters without being a celebration of that sexism, but The Dirt is unwilling to offer any critical distance between the subjects of the movie and its own creators. Instead, it chooses to indulge them in their outdated and archaic ways. Seeing this as a satire is giving it far too much credit, as that never feels like the intent. It’s just a relic of some thankfully phased-out days.
All that said, The Dirt does have a few positive elements. Mötley Crüe’s dismal ways don’t hold up, but their music does. The scenes of the band getting together and connecting through their music may not be deep, but they’re hummable. Certain performances are also satisfying to watch. Machine Gun Kelly, billed as Colson Baker, translates quite well into a small screen Tommy Lee. Being the jollier and more charismatic member of the band makes this bombastic performance appropriate, and he’s certainly never asked for emotional depth, but I found myself looking forward to the more Tommy-centric scenes in the movie.
It would be easy enough to embrace the trashy, shallow elements of The Dirt, but the truth is we deserve better. There’s no shame in being disappointed by a lazily shot, ploddingly told, and horribly offensive music bio-pic, no matter how sleezy the source material is.