Angel of Evil 

Guns n’ lira: Jail breaks, bank heists, thick mustaches and a gangster heartthrob … And?

Angel of Evil

GRADE: C+

Another retro Euro gangster movie — only not quite as good. With Un Prophet, Gomorrah and Carlos setting the bar, Michele Placido’s Italian shoot ’em up prison flick pales in comparison, boasting period style and action verve but lacking context, insight and character.

Real-life pretty-boy bank robber Renato Vallanzasca (Kim Rossi Stuart) and his Banda della Comasina spent a good chunk of the late ’70s terrorizing Italy with their increasingly violent crimes. Between jail breaks, drug parties, competition with suave crime boss Turatello (Francesco Scianna), and his mentally unbalanced best friend Enzo (Filippo Timi), poor handsome Renato hardly had time to bed all the gorgeous women who pined for him. And how they pined! Prison time was punctuated by the hundreds of girls who wrote Renato love letters daily, as tabloids turned his thuggish exploits into pinup tales of anti-establishment derring-do.

Charting roughly two-and-a-half decades, Angel of Evil follows the standard-issue rise then fall, using the this-then-that storytelling that has dominated the continental crime spree genre. But unlike, say, French biopic Mesrine, Placido’s hyperactive celebration of anti-social celebrity lacks a performance like Vincent Cassel to overcome its inherently shallow treatment. It’s not that Rossi Stuart isn’t charismatic; he is. It’s just that we have no sense of an interior life. Renato is just another murderous bad-boy who sets the girls’ hearts aflutter. And even that aspect of his fame, which offers with it rich opportunities to examine celebrity culture, is mostly ignored.

Instead, Angel of Evil offers a predictable parade of bushy hair, thick mustaches and brown-and-mustard polyester suits matched to equally predictable instances of stockings pulled over faces, thousands of Italian lire shoved into sacks, and guns booming. For some, that may be enough. Placido takes an overly complicated storyline filled with characters that come and go without warning, and applies brash direction, breathless pacing, and an impressively furious editing style. The movie gallops from one set piece to the next, never giving us the time to dwell on its seemingly irrelevant detours and details. Playing like a yearlong television series expertly sliced and diced into a two-hour movie, Angel of Evil is riveting but hollow stuff. Not to indulge in cliché, but given that Rossi Stuart penned the script with five other writers, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that so many cooks created a meal that’s all sauce and no spaghetti.

Showing at the Birmingham 8, 211 S. Old Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-644-3456.

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