First up, full disclosure: I've managed to make it through the past decade without crossing paths with the original Boondock Saints. While some hail it as a cult classic, none of my circle of friends had joined that cult, and I hadn't even seen the original until watching it back-to-back with the sequel to prepare for this review. I loved the outstanding documentary Overnight, which chronicles writer-director Troy Duffy's Hollywood rise and fall during his attempts to get the first Boondock made, and was left with the impression that Duffy is an egomaniac and something of a prick, but certainly unlikeable people have told great stories before. I wouldn't want to hang with the guy, but I was fully prepared to judge his flicks on their own merits alone. So now, having sat through both the original Boondock Saints and its new sequel -- and that latter three separate times owing to commentaries -- what do I think? I think if the MacManus brothers had kicked down my front door at the beginning of the marathon and shot me in the head, it would have been a mercy killing.
Eight years after their original vigilante rampage left a bloody, gaping hole in Boston organized crime, the MacManus brothers -- Conner (an oddly puffy Sean Patrick Flanery) and Murphy (Norman Reedus) -- are living a quiet, hairy life herding livestock in Ireland. That pastoral existence comes to an end when they learn of the killing of a priest back in their home town -- a killing obviously designed to look like they were the culprits. Leaving their retired hitman father (Billy Connolly), Conner and Murphy shave off their mountain-man beards, dig up their hidden cache of weaponry, and hop a boat back across the pond with the intent to kill everyone involved with the murder. Along the way, they enlist a semi-insane Mexican named Romeo (Clifton Collins Jr.) in their cause, and once arriving on American shores they begin to investigate the mystery in the only way they know how: by shooting people until the situation resolves itself.
By all accounts Troy Duffy spent several years trying to secure financing and get the Boondock Saints sequel up and running, but if you'd told me the film was shot the very next year after the original, I'd believe it, because Boondock Saints II feels very much like a relic of the late '90s. The original film arrived on the tail end of that period when every third filmmaker seemed to be trying desperately to become the next Quentin Tarantino, and the theaters and DVD shelves were awash with foul-mouthed but quirky hit men, operatic violence, and byzantine pop culture references. Even judged by those standards, the original Boondock is a mediocre also-ran. These days even Quentin Tarantino isn't trying to be that Quentin Tarantino; he's grown and matured as a filmmaker, polishing his skills rather than stagnating into a parody of himself. Duffy has undergone no such evolution. The Boondock Saints of 2009 look pretty much exactly like the Boondock Saints of 1999. Did you like Willem Dafoe as an eccentric FBI agent who had to crank up the classical music to investigate a crime scene? Then you'll love Julie Benz as an eccentric FBI agent who has to use earplugs to drown out all sound while she investigates a crime scene! If you enjoyed the original, you'll probably have just as much fun with this one, but for the rest of us, there just isn't much to like here.
If I had to sum up the problems of Boondock Saints II in a few words, those words would be "trying too hard." This movie, just like the original, thinks it's way, way cooler than it is. Both movies introduce the MacManus brothers by having them light up synchronized cigarettes. It's supposed to make them look bad-ass, and if I were a twelve-year-old boy who had never seen an action movie before, maybe it would. And it stands, it's such an obvious, clichéd shorthand that it's just a little sad. No, those matching Jesus back tattoos don't look make you two look tough; they make you look like a pair of over-pious dipshits. Seriously, if these guys are God's chosen weapons against evil, I'm rooting for Old Scratch.
That misplaced confidence is rife throughout the film, from the dialogue to Duffy's staging and direction. FBI Special Agent Eunice Bloom (Dexter's Julie Benz) doesn't just narrate the events she's piecing together from a crime scene. Instead, as she describes the events, we see them unfold around her, the brothers crashing into a hotel room and raining sanctified lead down on the unworthy. If you've seen the original, you'll recognize it as a variation on a trick Duffy used last time, suggesting he has added not a single tool to his filmmaker's toolbox. Only this time Benz is dressed like a cowboy, presumably because her character is from the south, and that is thus her default avatar for crime-reconstruction fantasies. Later, the brothers' dead friend and partner from the first film, Rocco (David Della Rocco), appears in a dream sequence to deliver what Duffy calls his "man-ifesto," a rousing tirade against sensitive men and the pussyfying of the gender. In and of themselves, there's nothing wrong with sequences like this -- the "man-ifesto" is actually good for a laugh, if a bit overwrought -- but again Duffy seems to think they carry more weight than they actually do. Most of his stylistic choices throughout the film are just riffs on concepts and themes that have been done to death over the past decade, if not the past several. Affectation of coolness is no coolness at all, and The Boondock Saints II is nothing but affectation.
The film does have its moments, however. Some of the action sequences are well-staged, and the ongoing subplot exploring the backstory of the brothers' father, formerly the hitman known as Il Duce, made me wish the brothers died in the opening scene and the rest of the movie just starred Billy Connolly. A late-film scene between him and an out-of-nowhere Peter Fonda crackles, but more because of the chemistry between two veteran actors than because of any strength of writing. Sadly, their acting talents don't extend to the rest of the cast, who range from bland (Flanery and Reedus) to cartoonish (Collins Jr.) to wince-inducing (Benz does the best she can with a poorly written role, but sports a southern accent so bad it rivals Keanu Reeves' turn in The Devil's Advocate).
There's a scene at the end of an action sequence that perfectly sums up the problems with the Boondock Saints II as a whole. After helping the MacManuses slaughter a roomful of gangsters, Romeo, disguised as a room-service waiter, throws his twin pistols in the air and screams, "Who ordered the whoop-ass fajitas?" After the brothers rightly deride this line as "fucking stupid," the film allows Romeo to rewind and revise his catchphrase to "Ding dong, motherfucker! Ding dong!" When the bar of quality is set at "Ding dong, motherfucker," is it any surprise that we're left with an unfunny, uninteresting, derivative mess of a movie?
I didn't like the movie, so a surplus of extras isn't really a good thing where I'm concerned. The above star rating is geared for those who consider themselves fans of the Boondock films. If you didn't like the movie any more than I did (and aren't tasked with reviewing the disc), sitting through any of this is going to hold very little interest for you, but if you're into the movie, there's plenty here to immerse you in the behind-the-scenes process.
The disc sports two commentaries: one with Duffy, Sean Patrick Flanery, Norman Reedus, and Billy Connolly; and a second with Duffy and Willem Dafoe. The first one is the "fun" commentary, a roomful of guys who are obviously all friends carousing, insulting each other, and occasionally referencing the film. Your enjoyment will primarily depend on your tolerance for Duffy's personality and sense of humor. Since Duffy isn't somebody I'd want to share an elevator ride with, much less a beer, it grated on me. It's like being the one sober guy in a group of drunk friends, where you don't know any of the inside jokes and you're pretty sure you're going to get dragged into a bar fight before the night is over. Even if you enjoy this commentary, I guarantee you'll never want to hear the phrase "triple squeezer to the dome" again. Or you'll enthusiastically add it to your daily vernacular, in which case I don't want to share an elevator ride with you, either.
The second commentary is more of a traditional, craft-focused chat, although the inclusion of Dafoe is somewhat misleading. The actor doesn't show up until well into the track, so most of it is Duffy flying solo. It's not a bad thing, since Dafoe's involvement with the sequel is limited and won't be spoiled any further here. Duffy is a lot more restrained in this track, and gives plenty of insights into the making of the film itself, the reception of the original, and the challenges of getting the sequel financed and produced. Duffy still exudes misplaced confidence in the quality of his film, but he balances that with plenty of matter-of-fact insight into the filmmaking process.
The disc includes two deleted scenes. Neither of them make a convincing case for vetoing their deletion, and they're so insubstantial I have to wonder why they bothered putting them on the disc at all. Then again, they're not particularly better or worse than most of the stuff that made the final cut...
Finally, you can dive into a pair of featurettes. "Unprecedented Access: Behind the Scenes" clocks in at just under half an hour, and is a pretty typical "making-of" segment, a mixture of interviews and footage. The cast and crew recollects everything from shooting to casting to Duffy's directorial style. Last up is "Billy Connolly & Troy Duffy: Unedited." It's footage of the two hanging out in Connolly's hotel room during the BD2 filming, just shooting the shit about how Duffy originally attracted the actor to the role in the first film and swapping compliments.
It's a decent collection, and Boondock fans will likely be satisfied. If you're not a die-hard, however, you're not missing much by skipping the extras.