Ironically deficient in both directorial daring and insight.

Italo criminal Renato Vallanzasca is described as having “more balls than brains” in Michele Placido’s biopic, “Vallanzasca — Angels of Evil,” but the pic itself is ironically deficient in both directorial daring and insight. A steely, tightly wound Kim Rossi Stuart is largely wasted in the title role, as his character is stuck in a screenplay of the and-then-this-happened variety, credited to a staggering eight collaborators (and based on two tomes co-written by Vallanzasca himself). Though pic has presold to several Euro territories, B.O. won’t be heavenly beyond home turf, where it goes out Dec. 17.

This is Placido’s third consecutive outing as a director, after “Crime Novel” and “Il grande sogno,” set in the late ’60s or ’70s, the same period in which he got his start as an actor. “Vallanzasca” is closest to “Novel,” as both are true period crime stories that star Rossi Stuart, though the thesp-helmer’s latest is nowhere near as impressive as that pic, with little feel for either the protag or the larger socio-historical and political context.

Main problem resides with Vallanzasca’s character himself, at least as depicted here. The future Milan crime boss became a criminal somewhat by accident; as a young kid from a relatively well-off family, he already found that his line of work nicely complemented the narcissistic and ruthless sides of his personality. But the film is not interested in exploring what made Vallanzasca tick, instead opting for a hasty, bullet-point-style overview of his many “achievements,” which lends the pic a dull school-book like quality despite the fact that many of his actions were reckless and often spectacular as Vallanzasca graduated from shoplifting to armed robberies and kidnappings.

Pic starts in prison in the early 1980s before backtracking to earlier events, though there are so many that they’re only summarily connected, as when the film cuts from the first meeting of Vallanzasca (Rossi Stuart) and the beautiful but aloof Consuelo (Valeria Solarino) to a scene in which she is his g.f. to a shot in which she is pregnant.

Similarly, it skips from shootout to shootout and from prison to prison, while each sensational jailbreak turns Vallanzasca into more of media darling (much like Jacques Mesrine, whose 1970s exploits were similarly explored with more action than insight in Jean-Francois Richet’s 2008 diptych).

What’s lacking here is an overall design that ties everything together, and the director again struggles to overcome an unfocused screenplay. Though Arnaldo Catinari’s steely-hued cinematography impresses, Placido’s direction never quite pops. A car chase and shootout in a dark, columned gallery is a perfect example of a scene that should have delivered an adrenaline high but instead weirdly deflates as the awkward choreography and mise-en-scene, random cuts and come-and-gone score fail to come together.

Supporting players — including Filippo Timi and Moritz Bleibtreu as members of his gang, Paz Vega as a childhood friend and Francesco Scianna as a rival — are given outlines rather than characters, turning this into much more of a one-man show than “Crime Novel.” What remains is the strong perf by Rossi Stuart, who has got Vallanzasca’s cocksure arrogance down pat and at least makes clear why people were obsessed with the charismatic man.

For the record: In one of the pic’s obligatory newspaper-headline montage pieces, Placido has slipped in a clipping about two rival Vallanzasca biopics from the ’70s that would have starred Placido and Alain Delon.

Vallanzasca -- Angels of Evil

Italy

Production

A 20th Century Fox Italy release of a Twentieth Century Fox presentation of a Cosmo Production, Fox Intl. production, in association with Twenty First Century Fox Italy, Babe Film, Mandragora Films. (International sales: Fortissimo Films, Amsterdam.) Produced by Elide Melli. Co-producer Fabio Conversi. Directed by Michele Placido. Screenplay, Kim Rossi Stuart, Placido, Antonio Leotti, Toni Trupia, Andrea Leanza, in collaboration with Antonella D'Agostino; story, Angelo Pasquini, Andrea Purgatori, loosely based on the books "Il fiore del male" by Carlo Bonini, Renato Vallanzasca, and "Lettera a Renato" by Vallanzasca, D'Agostino.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Arnaldo Catinari; editor, Consuelo Catucci; music, Negramaro; production designer, Tonino Zera; costume designer, Roberto Chiocchi; sound (Dolby Digital), Gaetano Carito, Antonio Barba; assistant director, Miguel Marco Lombardi. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (noncompeting), Sept. 6, 2010. Running time: 128 MIN.

With

Kim Rossi Stuart, Filippo Timi, Moritz Bleibtreu, Valeria Solarino, Paz Vega, Francesco Scianna, Gaetano Bruno, Nicola Acunzo, Stefano Chiodaroli, Lino Guanciale, Paolo Mazzarelli, Federica Vincenti, Monica Barladeanu, Lorenzo Gleijeses, Gerardo Amato, Adriana De Guinn.

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