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Review: 'Boondock Saints' make unwelcome return

| Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009

Cult classics — like Ed Wood's films and "Showgirls" — are often defined by their flaws as much as their merits. "Boondock Saints," the 1999 film that achieved cult status on DVD and has now spawned a sequel, certainly had plenty of flaws.

"Boondock Saints" was a ridiculously over-the-top action film about a pair of Irish-American twins who set out with guns and some reckless and boozy bravado to rid Boston of criminals and mafia.

Like its new sequel, it's a terrible movie (though Willem Dafoe as a gay federal investigator does liven things up in the original). But for all its warts, "Boondock Saints" does have the hallmarks of a film made by an actual person — an increasingly rare sight in the slick, corporate-made blockbusters of today's Hollywood.

That person is writer-director Troy Duffy, a former Los Angeles bartender who had no experience in movies when his screenplay for "Boondock Saints" became a sensation in the late '90s. A bidding war ensued and Harvey Weinstein, then of Miramax, took in Duffy as his next Quentin Tarantino or Kevin Smith. The two tangled, though, and Weinstein quickly dumped "Boondock Saints." It was only released in a few theaters, making $30,000.

The behind-the-scenes drama of this curious, utterly unneeded sequel far surpass the shlock on screen: Duffy makes a much better documentary subject than feature filmmaker. The 2003 documentary "Overnight" was an intimate and fascinating look at the cliche effects that sudden stardom had on Duffy.

Duffy's twist on the old story was in speeding up the process: His bullying behavior and swelling ego got him kicked out of Tinsel Town before he had even gotten through the gate. The story is now Hollywood legend.

But tenacity is one admirable trait about Duffy. Ten years after the original, Duffy has managed to reunite his cast for "Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day." It's to receive a far better release, too, this time appearing on about 70 screens.

The film opens with the two MacManus brothers (Sean Patrick Flanery, Norman Reedus) on a hillside in Ireland herding sheep. Along with Poppa M (Billy Connolly), they are laying low since the last time they were seen in public (at the end of the first film), they executed a mob boss in the middle of a courtroom.

"The past felt like a dream to them," Poppa M narrates — an obvious wink to Duffy's plight.

The brothers are soon pulled back to Boston, hellbent on avenging the murder of a local priest. Catholicism runs deep throughout "Boondock Saints": The MacManus brothers boast huge tattoos of Jesus on their backs, chant spooky-sounding scripture and always pray over the dead bodies of their victims.

Because it revels so thoroughly in drinking, fighting and the Catholic Church, "Boondock Saints" has been called "Irishspoitation." Like its predecessor, "All Saints Day" laments a society full of red-tape and a culture dominated by the "self-help, 12-step generation."

Violence is necessary to clean our cities, the films say. It's time, one character remarks, "to get your Irish on."

This comes across less like "Taxi Driver," and more like what Travis Bickle might have made if someone gave him a camera. It can be ugly. There's a vaguely racist subtext to the films, with derogatory phrases used for blacks in the first installment and for Hispanics in the second.

Instead of offering a picture of urban decay and crime, "Boondock Saints" gives us only cardboard cutout mobsters. It spends its energy in highly orchestrated gun fights and assassinations.

Cloaking vigilante justice (not to mention casual racism and homophobia) in religion eventually turns "Boondock Saints" from merely a bad movie to a distasteful one.

One might have hoped for a little maturity in the last decade from Duffy. It seems, though, that the only thing he's learned — having been skewered by former friends in "Overnight" — to hire his own documentary crew.

Too bad. "Overnight" could have used a new epilogue.

"Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day," an Apparition release, is rated R for bloody violence, language and some nudity. Running time: 117 minutes. Half a star out of four.

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