What We Do Is Secret

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Opens: Friday, Aug. 8 (Peace Arch Entertainment)

The music, fashions and general milieu of the Southern California punk scene of the late '70s are re-created in loving detail in Rodger Grossman's biopic about the legendary band the Germs and its frontman, Darby Crash.

But for all its surface authenticity, "What We Do Is Secret" feels distressingly familiar and never quite manages to elevate the material with the sufficient drama to make it of interest to those not already passionate about the subject matter.

Although he has to work hard to overcome his essentially wholesome appeal, Shane West delivers an ultimately convincing portrayal of Crash (born Jan Paul Beahm), who, as the film illustrates, was inspired by David Bowie's song "Five Years" to self-invent himself as a punk rocker, complete with a band composed of friends who could barely play their instruments.

The filmmaker employs various styles in his approach, including "Behind the Music"-type interview segments in which Crash explains his ethos with an articulateness that belies the popular image of snarling punks.

The Germs' brief career, which consisted of a single album and live performances that became so tumultuous that they were banned from Los Angeles concert venues, is depicted in thorough detail. The story ends tragically -- with Crash's apparently suicidal overdose of heroin that occurred -- in a bit of irony perfect for dramatic treatment on the night before John Lennon's murder.

Not ignored is the band's appearance in "The Decline of Western Civilization," the seminal documentary by Penelope Spheeris, with a short scene depicting the filmmaker's sidling up to Crash and inviting them to participate.

Besides West's charismatic turn as the sexually conflicted Crash, there also are striking contributions by Bijou Phillips, Rick Gonzalez and Noah Segan as bandmates Lorna Doom, Pat Smear and Don Bolles, respectively.

The numerous musical performances, supervised by Smear, are delivered with a highly convincing energy that provides persuasive evidence for the band's notoriety.

Production: Vitagraph Films/Picture Machine/Red Rover Films. Cast: Shane West, Bijou Phillips, Rick Gonzalez, Noah Segan, Ashton Holmes. Director-screenwriter: Rodger Grossman. Executive producers: Stephen Nemeth, Shane West, Michael LaFetra, Damon Martin, David Mack. Producers: Kevin Mann, Matthew Pernicario, Rodger Grossman, Todd Traina. Director of photography: Andrew Huebscher. Production designer: John R. Mott. Music: Anna Waronker. Costume designer: Julia Castor. Editors: Ross Albert, Joel Plotch. Rated R, 92 minutes.
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