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On Netflix: THE DIRT (2019)

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THE DIRT
(US - 2019)

Directed by Jeff Tremaine. Written by Rich Wilkes and Amanda Adelson. Cast: Douglas Booth, Iwan Rheon, Colson Baker, Daniel Webber, David Costabile, Pete Davidson, Levin Rambin, Kathryn Morris, Rebekah Graf, Max Milner, Joe Chrest, Tony Cavalero, Christian Gehring, Elena Evangelo, Kamryn Ragsdale, Anthony Vincent Valbiro. (Unrated, 107 mins)

In various stages of development for over a decade, the Netflix adaptation of Motley Crue's 2001 tell-all The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band still can't help but feel a little like BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY II: THE CRUE. One can imagine this becoming a burgeoning subgenre with any major, influential figure or band (there's already an Elton John biopic on the way with Taron Egerton), and like the extremely popular Queen/Freddie Mercury chronicle, THE DIRT glosses over details and fudges some facts. It also omits some of the more vile, salacious, X-rated material while still managing to leave in a visual presentation of drummer Tommy Lee's cunnilingual ability to bring a woman to a geyser-like orgasm in a room full of people. Approved and co-produced by the band, THE DIRT doesn't shy away from showing them at their worst, from letting fame go to their heads, sleeping with each others' girlfriends, vehicular manslaughter, and the deepest pits of smack addiction. It also shows them as human beings with plenty of baggage, from bassist/leader Nikki Sixx's horrible childhood to guitarist Mick Mars' quiet battle with a degenerative bone disease to frontman Vince Neil losing his four-year-old daughter Skylar to cancer. The bit with the phone? Yeah, that got lost in the transition from page to screen.






THE DIRT kicks off at the dawn of the 1980s on L.A.'s famed Sunset Strip, as bassist Sixx (British actor Douglas Booth of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES and THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM) looks to start a new band after the implosion of his last one, Strip fixture London. He's approached by London superfan and amiable goofball Lee (Colson Baker, aka rapper Machine Gun Kelly) and they decide to start a band and begin auditioning guitar players. Enter the jaded, cynical Mars (GAME OF THRONES' Iwan Rheon), who's several years older and with a rare disease that will slowly affect his spine and bones over time. He feels that the clock is ticking and only wants to be in a serious band, and even he's won over when Lee introduces them to Neil (Australian actor Daniel Webber, who played Lee Harvey Oswald on the Hulu miniseries 11.22.63), a buddy from high school who's currently in a cover band called Rock Candy. The magic happens almost immediately when Sixx writes "Live Wire," and after settling on Mars' suggested name (rejected ones included Sixx's "XMass" and Lee's "The Fourskins," so-called because "we fuck the audience in the face every night!"), Motley Crue quickly become the hottest band on the Strip. They're courted and signed by Elektra A&R guy Tom Zutaut (Pete Davidson) and managed by the legendary Doc McGhee (David Costabile), but it's not long before it's all about the groupies, the booze, and every debauched indulgence imaginable (cue Neil screwing Zutaut's girlfriend, Sixx snorting coke out of Lee's girlfriend's ass crack). With the release of the debut album, they land the opening spot on an Ozzy Osbourne tour, and they're warned by Ozzy (Tony Cavalero, doing what's basically an SNL impression) to control themselves and their excesses as he himself snorts a line of live ants and laps up his own piss.


All of the well-known Crue highs and lows are here to a point: a drunk Neil behind the wheel of a car crash that takes the life of passenger and Hanoi Rocks drummer Razzle Dingley (Max Milner); Lee's romance and wedding to TV star Heather Locklear (Rebekah Graf); Sixx's worsening heroin addiction where he actually flatlines in the ambulance before being brought back to life; a newly-sober Crue's 1989 Dr. Feelgood triumph followed by Neil's acrimonious departure two years later, during which time his daughter is diagnosed with stomach cancer while the band carries on with new singer John Corabi (Anthony Vincent Valbiro), playing half-filled venues before Elektra eventually drops them; and their inevitable reunion with the caption "The band played for another 20 years" that demonstrates a brusqueness usually reserved for Poochie dying on the way back to his home planet. Yeah, "another 20 years," give or take. Lee's one-album departure and replacement by ex-Ozzy drummer Randy Castillo is never mentioned, nor is (thankfully) his ludicrous side project Methods of Mayhem. Likewise, Lee's marriage to and much-publicized sex tape with Pamela Anderson never comes up, nor does any mention of domestic violence or the time Lee spent in jail because of it.


Taken on its own terms for the somewhat fictionalized '80s nostalgia that it is, THE DIRT is entertaining, never dull, and the four leads do some convincing cosplay (particularly Baker as Lee), though it never goes beyond the superficial and in one case, is utterly cringe-worthy (as Sixx, Booth is actually required to say the line "I fell in love...her name was Heroin"). Each band member (and McGhee and Zutaut) get their turns narrating, with sometimes amusing results, whether it's Zutaut's "Don't leave your girlfriend alone with Motley Crue, because they will fuck her," or Mars breaking the fourth wall with "What you just saw...that never happened" and Sixx introducing a nameless character who literally fades from the screen with the explanation "We cut him from this movie." Like any biopic there's some degree of whitewashing and selective revisionist history, but for the most part, THE DIRT is basically a re-enactment of a BEHIND THE MUSIC episode mixed with JACKASS-like antics (like running through hotels naked and setting Mars' room on fire while he's sleeping), not surprising given that director Jeff Tremaine's resume includes co-creating JACKASS and directing the three JACKASS movies and the JACKASS spinoff BAD GRANDPA. At any rate, any 2019 depiction of the halcyon days of the early '80s Sunset Strip that manages to namecheck Y&T deserves some points for cred.





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