The Germs were movers and shakers in the national embarrassment that was L.A. punk, releasing one album before the 1980 overdose-suicide of singer Darby Crash. This largely rote biopic chronicles the band’s brief reign of terror, as a faux documentary starring Shane West as Crash. The actor is moderately convincing in his scenes onstage, but he lacks the muddiness requisite to the role—recently, he played ER’s Dr. Ray—and demonstrates little of Crash’s supposed charisma. Mostly, the singer comes off as one in a long line of pretentious rock buffoons, armed with corny poetry and Dionysian baloney.
The model here seems to be Jim Morrison—the antipunk himself!—whose name characters mention more than once. Reading the Germs as a latter-day Doors points to the movie’s larger problem: It never properly contextualizes Crash or displays what distinguished California punks from their New York brethren, to say nothing of their hippie forebears. While the singer’s descent into heroin abuse is meticulously detailed through exploitative shots of needles puncturing flesh, Crash’s greater emotional decay gets shrugged off with a sad childhood. The movie’s more sympathetic character is also the more interesting Germ: guitarist Pat Smear (a nicely understated Gonzalez), who survived to perform with Nirvana and cohost Cindy Crawford’s House of Style. Dionysus shrugs.