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‘The Dirt’ somehow makes debauchery boring

Marcel Thee

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Thu, March 28, 2019  /  06:23 pm
‘The Dirt’ somehow makes debauchery boring

Helter Skelter: 'The Dirt' is filled with 1980s glam metal excess but it forgets about its characters. (Netflix/-)

Netflix’s The Dirt revels in Mötley Crüe’s endless after-parties, but leaves little room for the four-man band’s emotional struggles and musical moments.

Whether one finds Mötley Crüe an awesome emblem of 1980s rock 'n' roll revelry or a scrapbook of the era's submission to excess and cliché, it's impossible to deny the fascinating debauchery of The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band, their 2001 autobiography.

Collaboratively written with author Neil Strauss, the book offered endless tales of rock 'n' roll living that are impossible to look away from – like a fiery crash of a car driven by “Satan on cocaine” into a strip club. To paraphrase one of the band's manager: The members of Mötley Crüe were living on the edge of death every day – whether through sex, drugs, or violence, either to themselves or others.

Unfortunately, the fascinating mess that is the band and its members does not exactly make for a great film. The cinematic adaptation of The Dirt is underwritten, always in too much of a hurry to get from one scene to another without the patience to let anything linger. It's confident of its depravity but not of its humanity.

Condensing a whole book (and a whole career that has lasted almost 20 years) into a single film is indeed difficult, if not impossible. Director Jeff Tremaine made his name as one of the creators of the infamous Jackass series, in which crazy stunts are done by a few daring men, and he brings that same sense of wonder toward chaos here. But Tremaine also seems to have approached the book's many notable incidents the same way he does Jackass – moving from one to another like a series of stunts.

The movie is infested with the book's colorful menagerie of crazy moments, but in doing so it forgoes the “humane” side of the four members.

With the book, the horrible things the band did felt like confessionals from some unaware rock stars perfectly tailored for some guilty-pleasure reading, but brought to screen, it's hard not to feel it's like a celebration of something that shouldn't be celebrated. On paper, the guys could at least read like endearing goofballs with bad boy tendencies; on film, it's just an orgy of horrible egotism (guitarist Mick Mars, the oldest and by far most mature of the group, comes off the best, as he does in the book).

Why show how a band of close friends can also be each other's worst enemies when we can have scenes of them vomiting on women and snorting cocaine again and again?

The Dirt is more concerned about the growth of Mötley Crüe's excess than its music. Albums, songs and most musical moments are mere intermezzos used to bridge one wild moment to another.

The book dedicated each chapter to first-person accounts of its band members – vocalist Vince Neil, bassist and band leader Nikki Sixx, drummer Tommy Lee and guitar player Mick Mars, as well as those inside their orbit, including their infamous band managers and John Corabi, the vocalist-guitarist who took over for Neil for a brief second in the mid-1990s.

While it's still hard to learn about the kinds of things they do – Lee punching a woman, Neil drunk driving and crashing a car and causing the death of his rocker friend, endless sex that sometimes include each other's spouses, a general treatment of women as playthings and lots more – the first-person writing meant some kind of explanation or perspective was involved, no matter how abhorrent.

The film's four stars – Colson Baker, aka Machine Gun Kelly, as Lee, Douglas Booth as Sixx, Game Of Thrones’ Iwan Rheon as Mars and Daniel Webber as Neil – portray the band's much-documented persona well enough. Webber and Booth, in particular, try hard and earn their dramatic moments, but again, the story goes through them like a checklist.

Wild side: The movie treats Mötley Crüe’s musical moments as mere intermezzos used to bridge one wild moment to another.Wild side: The movie treats Mötley Crüe’s musical moments as mere intermezzos used to bridge one wild moment to another. (Netflix/-)

The tragic story of Neil's drunk-driving accident and its repercussions and the death of his very young daughter to cancer fly by fleetingly, without any investment before and after they happen. Sixx's tragic past and his insane struggles with heroin feel like aesthetic flourishes rather than emotional arcs, as does Mars’ struggle with an illness that essentially robs him of his physicality. The film is too busy trying to cram in as much zaniness to invest in these moments.

Sure, the shallow joy of rock bios is learning or seeing rock stars behave like animals and live out everyone else's rock 'n' roll fantasy, but the music has to be there; otherwise we might as well be watching Jackass.

Whether you're a fan of Mötley Crüe's music doesn't matter, but it matters that the band members themselves love their music above everything. As for the why and how these four men made music that meant so much to them and their fans, The Dirt simply doesn't have time for that.

 

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The Dirt (Netflix)

Director: Jeff Tremaine

Based on: the autobiography of Mötley Crüe, The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band

Cast: Colson Baker, Douglas Booth, Iwan Rheon and Daniel Webber

Running time: 108 minutes

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