I remember back in one of my college English classes, we were talking about the work of Jack Kerouac. The professor was talking about how if Kerouac would’ve had a regular editor for his seminal book On the Road (although many names were changed and explicit content removed – omission doesn’t necessarily mean editing), it might have resulted in a more coherent and sound piece of work… but it just wouldn’t have been Kerouac. I bring up that weird and rather out of place story for a reason, because it seems to echo the work of maverick filmmaker Troy Duffy, the bartender-turned-filmmaker whose debut film Boondock Saints turned into a cult classic phenomenon. After the well-documented struggles of making the first film, and again with his sequel Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day, a decade after the first film famously hit theaters for only one week due to the studio worrying about the Columbine massacre blowback… I’m happy to report that after all the bulls&*t, Troy Duffy is back in a major way with this incredible sequel.
Let me get this out of the way first. Yes, I am a HUGE Boondock Saints fan, and I have been ever since I first saw it. That being said, that film wasn’t perfect (it’s almost incredible how good the film was with the obstacles against Duffy), and this follow-up isn’t perfect either, but here’s why I brought up that Kerouac story from earlier. Duffy had originally sold his script to the Weinstein Brothers, formerly of the powerful Miramax and now of the not-even-close-to-powerful Weinstein Co., but the proverbial s*&t hit the fan in heated debates between Duffy and Miramax and they put his script into turnaround, only for Duffy to bring it to another company to make the film for half of what Weinstein’s would’ve made it for… and, eventually, it became a hit. The moral of said story is Duffy stood his ground, knowing it would be a hit film, and he was right, and the millions of DVD’s sold is the proof of his success, albeit by non-traditional standards in the film biz. Duffy had utter and complete creative control over his debut film – a feat almost unheard of by traditional standards – and if Duffy would’ve went with the Weinstein’s or any other studio, Boondock Saints might have been more successful and more refined… but it wouldn’t have truly been Duffy’s film in comparison, and likely wouldn’t have been nearly as beloved by the fans and even those who made it. Now Duffy is back a decade later with his follow-up sequel Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day, and to fans of the series who have been (im)patiently awaiting this film, trust me, it’s WELL worth the wait.
The film opens up with a bit of a surprise, although it might not have been too surprising if you noticed one particularly quick cut during the trailer. We open on David Della Rocco, the enigmatic fan favorite who portrayed the foul-mouthed mafia peon and the Saints’ good friend, Rocco. He gives us a wonderful opening speech in voiceover, while we see him walking an empty street up to a church. We also see good ol’ Rocco in a dream sequence later in the film, and god-damn was it good to see him. After seeing Rocco we head to Ireland and the idyllic new home of the Saints Connor (Sean Patrick Flannery) and Murphy MacManus (Norman Reedus). They’ve taken up a serene life of refuge with their father Il Duce (Billy Connolly), now known as Poppa M, living quiet lives as shepherds on a sheep farm. It doesn’t take long, though, for the boys to revert back to their former saintly ways, when a priest informs them that the boys have been set up, when a Boston priest was murdered and made to look like the Saints committed the crime. It isn’t long before they’ve cut their hair (you should see how shaggy they are when we open the film), put on their pea coats and are on their way back to America. Their father stays on the farm, falling somewhat ill recently, and, in between the MacManus boys’ escapades back in Boston, we get some The Godfather 2-like flashbacks of how Il Duce came to be. Of course, though, the main drive of the film is getting the Saints back in action and, on their boat back to America, they find a rather unlikely new partner in crime/sainthood in Romeo (the fantastic Clifton Collins Jr.), a feisty Mexican who is quick to prove his prowess to Connor and Murphy, although he is sometimes privy to emotional bouts of crying tears of joy. There is another new face on the other side of the law as well in Eunice Bloom (the stunning Julie Benz), the FBI protégé of Willem Dafoe’s Agent Smecker in the first film, who comes to Boston to see what the Saints’ reaction to the priest’s murder might be. And, honestly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg here.
While you’ll see some remakes or sequels pay homage to the first film or the original, All Saints Day really plays like a love letter to the fans, with numerous little nods and references to the first film, including several of the original players back for the sequel. Aside from Rocco we see the original three Boston detectives Greenly (Bob Marley), Duffy (Brian Mahoney) and Dolly (David Ferry), now all worried that they’ll be put away for their involvement at the end of the first film when Bloom comes to town, the loveable barkeep Doc (Gerard Parkes) and even the boys’ original weapons supplier, a character credited simply as Irish Arms Dealer (Tom Barnett). Along with these familiar faces, we also get plenty of new blood in the film. The gorgeous Julie Benz, who seems to have a knack for showing up in male-driven fare (See: Rambo, Punisher: War Zone, Saw V and that one show she’s on, Dexter) is just wonderful as the new fed Eunice Bloom, who shows off her range by pulling off a delightfully quirky performance akin to Dafoe’s Smecker, but with her own unique flair… although I’m not quite sure why they chose to have her with this Southern belle kind of accent. One of my longtime favorite character actors Clifton Collins Jr. appears here - his 9,000th film this year, I believe - as the new addition to the Saints, Romeo, who completely shines in the role with his outlandish eccentricities, including the abundance of bravado that covers up his rather frail, emotional side which comes out involuntarily and provides part of the comedy here. We also see former Brat Packer Judd Nelson as the Mafioso legacy Concezio Yakavetta, the son of the mob boss who was famously and publicly whacked in the courtroom at the end of the first film, and who wants his revenge on the Saints, and we also see Peter Fonda as Roman, a mysterious figure whose involvement I really can’t talk about. However, as good as all of these actors are – and they are quite damn good – people are really going to see this for the cult-classic heroes Sean Patrick Flannery, Norman Reedus and Billy Connolly as the MacManus clan. It’s amazing how they could slip into these characters they played a decade ago with such ease, and still bring new nuances to the characters while putting back on display the same things we fans embraced in the first film. Flannery and Reedus are spot-f*&$ing-on as Connor and Murphy, just like riding a bike they put down 10 years ago. After all this time, though, the boys haven’t changed much, with their proclivities to have their plans go awry and succeed anyway, pull outlandish pranks and, of course, drink… and every single second of Flannery and Reedus’ performances are such a sheer joy to watch, for a longtime fan like me. While we don’t see Billy Connolly that much in the film, it certainly is more than we see him in the first film and, in many ways, Connolly’s Il Duce/Poppa M is the driving force behind the entire film and we see this terrific character fully developed in this film.
While writer-director Troy Duffy is essentially responsible for my few minor pet peeves of the film, he’s still the film’s biggest star, with one hell of a comeback performance in his second film. Basically, the same kinds of things that bothered me just a little bit about the first film, bothered me here, but they seemed to be a bit more amplified. The campy factor goes way up here, as it seems some of these characters – chiefly the detectives Greenly, Duffy and Dolly – were encouraged to go as over-the-top as they possibly could in some scenes. We also get an even bigger dose of Duffy’s unique brand of humor, which actually works a lot better in this film, although there some jokes that just seem to be pushing too far – not in terms of moral standards or anything, just in terms of being fairly corny. Still, like I said at the beginning of the review, these things are just straight-up Duffy and his techniques, flairs and intricacies do wonders for setting this film apart from any other vigilante-type film. They’re his trademark and it’d be one thing if he didn’t deliver with the story, the action or directing this amazing cast… but he does, in spades, and these little quirks are just part of the Troy Duffy ride, quirks that I’m more than willing to accept for a film so bold and wonderful as this, and the original. It’s also possible that it’s not actually much of Duffy’s fault, because the energy on this film just seemed so insanely high all around from those who returned from the original. Perhaps Duffy was just harnessing that energy of having everyone back for their 10-year reunion into the performances of the film. Who’s to tell, but one thing is very very clear: this just had to be one hell of a fun set to be on, no matter who you were. I’ve heard from many an actor or director who would say that they had so much fun on the set and that it, “showed on screen,” but few films that I’ve seen have accomplished that feat the way that this film has. Duffy truly does up the ante with even bigger action set pieces, little nods to 70s action films and many other references and just an overall more stylized look that is quite a sight to behold. You certainly do get a LOT more for your money here, and I’m thrilled that Duffy was finally able to get an opportunity to show that to us.
Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day is the film I and every other diehard Boondock fan have been absolutely dying to see all decade, and one that is WELL worth the wait. We get everything we loved about the first film, plus a lot of new elements and just a bigger, bolder and better film overall. The film is really Troy Duffy’s way of saying “thanks for coming out” to the fans who have supported both of these films, and man what a thank-you film it is.
The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day is out November 24, 2009.