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What We Do Is Secret

These Germs Are Not Contagious

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Shane West (ER, A Walk to Remember) sheds his pretty boy image and stars as Darby Crash, the lead singer of late 70's L.A. punk legends The Germs. However, unless you’re already a fan of the era’s music, you probably haven't heard of the group or their leader. Most likely the only member you may know is Pat Smear who later joined Nirvana (six months before Kurt Cobain's suicide) and subsequently became a member of the Foo Fighters. Smear served as a consultant for What We Do Is Secret, which centers more on Crash than the band itself, and knowing of his involvement makes it that much harder to grasp how it turned out so cookie cutter.

The Germs, however, were no sugar sprinkled group. Actually, they're the "anti-band" making t-shirts and booking gigs before they could even play their instruments. The film should have come off as raw and gritty but after years of trying to get this project together it feels amateur and better suited for a VH1 movie of the week. That's not saying it's a bad movie, it is definitely interesting even if you're not familiar with the group or the type of music, but at 82 minutes it barely gives you a glimpse into Crash's psyche, let alone recreate the atmosphere of L.A. punk at the time.

Surprisingly, West is the best part of the film. Darby Crash wasn't the cliché self-deprecating punk rocker. Ok, well he sort of was. But the difference with Crash is that like, say Henry Rollins, the guy was very intelligent and like many intelligent, creative people, he was probably just too self-aware for his own good. West portrays Crash as a guy who was smart and calculating when it was uncool to be so. While still in high school he made a "five year plan" to start a band with Pat Smear despite having any talent. Throughout his short career he stuck to his convictions and created an aura that was bigger than the music itself which allowed the band time to actually become proficient musicians. Unfortunately, the film doesn't fully manifest that sensation that made The Germs and Crash underground stars during their time.

Maybe the problem is that the film is set up as half film/half faux documentary. The movie is riddled with confessionals from members of The Germs (Bijou Philips, Rick Gonzalez and Noah Segan) and friends of Crash, but it doesn't feel genuine because it's just the actors portraying their respective characters attempting to make it feel off the cusp. The film would have benefited from a linear story and could have added a lot more meat. It begins with some quick background information of Crash, but it soon loses that momentum and can’t figure out if it’s about Crash or The Germs, even though it’s obvious the star is Crash. And again, at 82 minutes, it's not like there were any length issues.

Yet, despite all of the film's flaws it covers an interesting topic, a charismatic guy and an era that most don't have a lot of knowledge about. Perhaps these are the reasons that I wish they were explored in greater depths and in better taste.