Crash Into Mediocrity: West can pick up a mic?but not a whole movie.

There are several moments during What We Do Is Secret, a biopic about the Germs, when you can imagine Walk Hard’s Dewey Cox wailing, “This is a dark fucking period!” But the latter’s lamentation was intended as parody, whereas writer-director Rodger Grossman’s 15-year labor of love is—or, at least, is supposed to be—quite serious. Grossman’s long-gestating portrait of the short-lived ’70s punk band, which was barred from playing Los Angeles clubs by the time it got around to recording an album, focuses on Darby Crash (Shane West), the now-textbook head case/“genius” who founded and disastrously fronted a band whose members couldn’t play their instruments. Crash, born Jan Paul Beahm, had a five-year plan to achieve infamy, ending with his 1980 suicide, and he regarded actual music as secondary to blowhardiness. Still, he was together enough to assemble a band: His guitarist and bass player were rechristened Pat Smear (Rick Gonzalez) and Lorna Doom (Bijou Phillips), respectively; Belinda Carlisle, briefly part of the lineup as drummer Dottie Danger, would eventually be replaced by Don Bolles (Noah Segan). They did eventually learn to play and in fact became pioneers in Los Angeles’ hardcore scene, even while Crash’s heroin use ensured that their shows were more spectacle than concert. What We Do Is Secret, named after a Germs song, begins with one genuine moment—West perfectly imitating Crash’s baby-talkish onstage requests for a “beerwa”—but crumbles into cartoonish movie-of-the-week territory from there. While West makes a great shambles of a singer (so much so that the remaining band members have toured with him) and Phillips doesn’t embarrass herself, the others aren’t done any favors by Grossman’s awkward script and cheesy direction: Gee-golly flashbacks to the group’s early days has Gonzalez playing future Nirvana and Foo Fighters member Smear like he’s channeling Welcome Back, Kotter’s Juan Epstein, Segan’s decked in terrible wigs, and Ashton Holmes, as Crash hanger-on/implied love interest Rob Henley, whines “I don’t want to be a junkie, Darby!” before his first smack injection. (Combined with his overdone acne makeup, Holmes is practically The Simpsons’ Squeaky-Voiced Teen .) The film’s only watchable scenes are the musical performances, which are always chaotic, frequently mesmerizing, and come closest to reflecting punk’s grimy rawness. The rest is High School Musical with needles and dye jobs.