For a Mötley Crüe biopic, The Dirt is appropriately garish and trashy. For a film directed by Jackass vet Jeff Tremaine, it's surprisingly tame. And for a Netflix movie, it's definitely interesting enough to keep you from looking at your phone – anyone who's watched at least a half-dozen Netflix movies will recognize that as high praise. Based on the band's popular memoir of the same name from 2002, The Dirt tracks the rise and fall (and return) of Mötley Crüe as band members Tommy Lee (Machine Gun Kelly), Nikki Sixx (Douglas Booth), Vince Neil (Daniel Webber), and Mick Mars (Iwan Rheon) hook up with groupies, struggle to overcome their troubled pasts, and cope with drug addiction – all with varying degrees of success. Shot with the same glitz-meets-grit style that defined this era of rock, the film aptly mirrors the band's aesthetic without veering into satire. But for all the boobs (of which there are many) and heroin injections and backstage shenanigans, The Dirt is surprisingly dramatic – and a little formulaic, despite its occasional attempts to subvert biopic tropes.
Those who have read the band's memoir might find The Dirt to be a visual Cliff's Notes companion, while viewers unfamiliar with some of the book's more scandalous details will delight in watching Ozzy Osbourne (a convincing Tony Cavalero) snort a line of fire ants after the cocaine runs out at a pool gathering. (That's actually the tamest Ozzy moment to occur in this particular scene, which also features the Black Sabbath frontman licking Nikki's pee off the ground.) As established by his work on Jackass and its subsequent films, Tremaine has mastered the art of capturing rowdy, repulsive behavior, and while these scenes are definitely the most entertaining parts of The Dirt, the film has quite a bit more on its mind – particularly by positioning Nikki Sixx as the ostensible lead. The opening scenes of the film depict Nikki's childhood with an alcoholic mother and her string of boyfriends and husbands, a past that repeatedly comes back to haunt him throughout his career. Booth easily captures the restless, abrupt shifts in Nikki's demeanor, from introspective drug addict to party-hard rock god. Two scenes in particular stand out as both devastating and squirm-inducing: When Nikki's mother, now sober, visits him at a hotel; and a relapse in which Nikki injects heroin into his neck. Tremaine's specific expertise takes on a more mature dimension; an unexpected but not unwelcome evolution for the director.
Machine Gun Kelly puts in fine work as one of the band's more notorious members, though the biopic stops short of getting into Tommy Lee's homemade porn era – perhaps for the best. Iwan Rheon is similarly solid, though it's difficult to divorce him from his menacing Game of Thrones character; his constant scoffing as the eldest band member offers a nice contrast to the rest of the group. But it's Daniel Webber who gives what is easily – and surprisingly – the best performance (or at the very least, equal to Booth's). As Vince Neil, Webber is tasked with much of the film's more emotional moments, including the illness of a child and the tragic death of a friend. His struggle with addiction feels especially haunted. Webber, whose previous credits include playing Lewis Wilson on The Punisher and Lee Harvey Oswald in 11.22.63, is damn near revelatory as Vince Neil – which might be the first time anyone has said that about Mötley Crüe's frontman in at least a few decades.
The supporting cast is a bit less memorable, and likely for good reason given the nature of the band and their story: As Mötley Crüe's manager Doc McGhee, David Costabile (Breaking Bad) is a decent straight-man foil for the band. The casting of Pete Davidson as Tom Zutaut – who discovered the band and signed them with Elektra – is questionable at best; the SNL star looks like a 14-year-old playing grown-up and acts like it too.
It might be weird to say, but The Dirt could almost use a little more drama. Much of the film feels torn between salaciousness and seriousness, and the scenes that deal in the latter are surprisingly poignant. Perhaps at least part of the problem is in the adaptation of the source material and the constraints of a reasonable runtime – not to say that The Dirt should be longer, necessarily, but its moments are so fleeting, like a series of vignettes that vacillate between sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll and sex, drugs, and death.