There’s been a lot of pre-hype buildup to the new bio-pic about popular metal stars Mötley Crüe, available starting today on Netflix.
Based on their ridiculously over-the-top, often hilarious book, “The Dirt,” the movie charts the rise of one of the most politically incorrect hair metal bands of the ‘80s, which might seem odd to audiences today, during one of the most politically correct times in American history. The film’s creators have given us a reminder of just how far we’ve come.
The fast-paced, fragmentary movie is directed by Jeff Tremaine, known for his work on the “Jackass” franchise, and it starts with a stereotypical party at the band’s apartment just off the Sunset Strip, before they were famous. More specifically, it begins with a woman squirting a stream of ejaculate across the party after being orally stimulated by drummer Tommy Lee, akin to a Tijuana side-show spectacle that is the band's aesthetic.
While it can be fun to witness the hedonism of the '80s Sunset Strip, that's about the level the film aspires to: The Crue are throwbacks to a more vulgar, clueless time when shitty musicians got away with everything, from blatant sexism (women are treated a notch below over-the-counter jock itch cream) to homophobia, assault and yes, even manslaughter. The band's singer Vince Neil drove drunk a few blocks to buy more beer and managed to kill his passenger Razzle from Hanoi Rocks, critically injuring several others, and somehow served only 19 days in jail. Ah, the ‘80s.
Unlike their hero Ozzy Osborne, usually too drunk to do much of anything truly evil, the band left a path of destruction and probably singlehandedly caused STD outbreaks around the globe. My only question going in was whether this soap opera-ish movie about their inane, sex/drug/rock and roll exploits would attempt to offer any insight or moral revelations? Oh, hell no.
The band members, who somehow have moved on to even more egregious musical side projects, had too much oversight in telling their story. Boys will be cretins is the general theme, and if that isn’t bad enough, a nostalgic wistfulness in tone permeates the film like a foul puddle of vomit and bong water.
Like the book, the movie is told through first-person voice-over by each band member while recounting their rise to fame as an us-against-the world triumph. None of these characters are sympathetic (“Muzzle that,” Nikki Sixx says to his singer’s girlfriend at their first practice) and by midway through the film, when the band starts to destroy itself with hard drugs and infighting, viewers may want to cheer. Sadly, even the dark moments lack originality: Sixx’s heroin overdose is a vile concoction of Afterschool Special and the revival scene from “Pulp Fiction” minus Rosanna Arquette saying “that was fuckin’ trippy.”
What’s amazing about the film (and the book) is the sheer number of daily bad decisions this band made while still managing to be successful – though you can’t trust much of the material as anything other than self-serving. While the group's first two albums remain classics of the genre, one can only surmise that MTV played a major role in helping them sell millions of records as the band disintegrated.
One of the best scenes is when drummer Tommy Lee recreates an insane day-in-the-life on the road, which leaves one wondering how the band didn't kill or maim many others. Another favorite scene is when a random moron at one of their apartment parties knocks over a mirror that falls and shatters over David Lee Roth's head while he's doing cocaine. "What is everybody looking at?" he mutters in a haze moments later. Then, as if to rob me of this tiny joy, Mick Mars (the one Crue member who seems to have half a conscience) breaks the fourth wall and says that this didn't even happen.
The music takes a backseat just as it did in real life, since the band was foremost an attitude, sold as a sort of "glam-punk” anarchy -- their "metal" better described as party or "strip-club rock." In many ways, Mötley Crüe will probably be remembered as an apotheosis of entitled, bad-boy rock star behavior and crass commercialism that started in the ‘70s. Its members, who struggled with personal childhood demons (except Tommy Lee) resemble spoiled, psychologically damaged children, whose dumb antics now appear to have been cries for help.
We should probably be thankful that help came in the form of Kurt Cobain, who slayed the L.A. hair metal scene with better music, not to mention a level of authenticity, compassion and “kill rock stars” mentality. Of course, he had his own issues.
As a dark comedy, or “Spinal Tap”-mockumentary, this might’ve worked better. Instead it's just another self-glorifying rock bio picture, one devoid of lessons learned, and one that is badly misnamed. It should've been called “The Idiots." Or just "Gross."