Gary Oldman, a summa cum laude graduate of the Mickey Rourke School of Beauty and Bad Acting, pits his madness against Sean Penn's method in "State of Grace," a wild Irish blood bath set in what's left of Hell's Kitchen. The old neighborhood, now renamed Clinton, is being wiped away by "a tide of yuppies" and their dogs, but not soon enough to prevent this McGangster movie.
Penn has the leading role of an undercover cop, Terry, torn between the law and his loyalties to his boyhood friends -- a street gang led by Jackie Flannery (Oldman) and Jackie's coldblooded older brother, Frankie (Ed Harris). Pretending to be a member of the Flannery gang, Terry is soon caught up in the alcoholism and violence of this limited universe of petty thugs and testy peabrains. Meanwhile, he reheats his relationship with Kathleen Flannery (Robin Wright), who ultimately turns her back on them all.
Penn's affecting performance, a strong and silent struggle with his warring emotions, is hard pressed to offset Oldman's shrill shenanigans. He's a parody of an Irish souse, weeping at the thought of the Saint Paddy's Day parade and sucking at his bottle like a shoat suckling in a wallow. And then from out of the superfluous blue comes Burgess Meredith as an old friend of Terry's father. "I'm just an old man eating stewed tomatoes out of a can," he says when Terry tries to muscle money out of him.
That's the most memorable line in this unsavory screenplay, a profane lot of guff and gunning-down from playwrights Dennis McIntyre and David Rabe and director Phil Joanou of "U2: Rattle and Hum." The blarney and bohunkery builds to a shaky apex of nothingness, then ends with a slaughter in slo-motion, a romantic ode of blood, bullets and body parts. Where's Father Flanagan now that we need him?
State of Grace, at area theaters, is rated R for profanity, violence, nudity and sexual situations.