Most distracting lesion:

Dark spot on Sean Penn's neck in "Mystic River"

Sean Penn, like no other actor of his generation, immerses himself into his roles. "Mystic River," the moving drama focused on Penn and two childhood friends, shows him at the top of his game as a grieving father.



 Penn with his film daughter in "Mystic River"

 Does this black neck patch foreshadow dark days ahead?
Despite his compelling performance, we at were distracted by a dark splotch on his neck. The movie does not comment about the amorphous black blob, which has no distinguishing characteristics. What is this ebony mark and why is it there? Had we made the right choice with the Junior Mints? We felt we had so much to learn.

Yet wait! Penn's character has several other lesions. Could there be a connection?

Only after Penn's back and arms are shown covered with body art that it becomes clear: the neck lesion supposed to be an amateur tattoo. Actually placed by a Hollywood makeup artist, the tatt constantly reinforces Penn's status as an ex-con. Is it possible that tattoos are part of his movie contracts? His previous tattooed role, as a death row inmate in "Dead Man Walking," earned him his first Oscar nomination.

Imagine our surprise when concerned fans of Sean Penn deluged our site with e-mail, begging us to call his agent to have this pigmented lesion evaluated. Their fear: that this was none other than dermatologists' most chilling challenge: melanoma skin cancer. Melanoma, the dark or irregularly colored growth usually seen in those with a history of abnormal moles and sun burns. Melanoma, the same cancer that took the life of reggae star Bob Marley and folk singer Eva Cassidy. Melanoma, which if removed early, can be entirely cured, which is more than we can say for psoriasis and excessive body hair.

Skinema visitor, do not fear for Penn. Though melanoma can look this way, this spot is not an actual skin cancer. First of all, it is the same color and tint as his other faux tatts. Second, it is not seen in current publicity photos. Finally, ever since his first big role in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" as surfer dude supreme Jeff Spicoli, Penn knew early on the importance of sun screen. When he said to that wave, "Let's Party!" he knew zinc oxide was the perfect party favor. Penn can rest easy that film audiences are watching out for his skin.

 In "21 Grams," Penn is tatt-free.

 His neck is clear, unlike... Benicio Del Toro.

 His character's tatt is distinctive...

 ...and weighs less than 21 grams.

This controversy could have been avoided if the "Mystic River" producers followed the lead of Penn's other 2003 release "21 Grams." In "21 Grams," it is Penn's fellow actor Benicio Del Toro who plays an ex-con with a neck tattoo. How do we know this is a tatt? Easy--it actually looks like one. Also, it figures directly into the plot: This exposed design gets Del Toro fired from his job in an exclusive golf club. Some who enjoy their body art eventually regret marks on their hands or neck because of the lingering social stigma. Fortunately, lasers can be used to treat real tattoos. Makeup remover will do just as well for Del Toro and Penn.

Runners up, most distracting lesion: Black actors with serious forehead scarring:



 Chiwetel Ejiofor in "Dirty Pretty Things" and "Love, Actually"

 Michael K. Williams in TV's "The Wire."

© 1996-2008 Vail Reese M.D.

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