The sexy gangster who turned on Italian women

The Italian gangster drama “Angel of Evil” didn’t get much theatrical play early in 2011, but it deserves a second life on DVD.

Directed by Michele Placido (who is also a fine actor), the movie is based on the true story of a Milan gang leader — Renato Vallanzasca (played by Kim Rossi Stuart) — who became a 1970s sex symbol because of his good looks and his yen for doing cocky press interviews while on the run.

Vallanzasca was jailed many times, but always managed to escape.

He wasn’t exactly Robin Hood — none of his ill-gotten gains filtered down to the poor — but the criminal’s chutzpah and his sexual magnetism made him an Italian media star.

“Angel of Evil” is sometimes reminiscent of two other gritty European crime dramas of recent vintage — “Gomorrah” and “A Prophet” — but Placido favors a high-powered commercial approach to the subject matter rather than the cool art film style of the two other films.

Kim Rossi Stuart gives a very strong performance as Renato — we can see why he was able to talk a woman pen pal into marrying him (part of one of his elaborate escape plots) but the actor doesn’t steer away from the dark and frightening aspects of the man.

The picture makes the most of the pop culture of the 1970s — the costuming and wig work are above average. Placido gets the viewer caught up in the excitement of living an out-of-control underworld life in a manner reminiscent of “GoodFellas” and “Boogie Nights” — we can see the appeal of easy money and flashy clothing and cars to poor, uneducated men whose options for straight jobs are limited.

“Angel of Evil” was one of the first releases in a new DVD line — Fox World Cinema — that is meant to introduce American home video viewers to hot foreign releases with the energy and entertainment value of Hollywood fare.

The series seems designed to prove that just because a movie is in a foreign language with English subtitles that doesn’t mean it should be targeted to art house audiences.

Joe Meyers