(In theatres, December 2009) This sequel would normally have come as a surprise given the first film’s nonexistent theatrical release, but the intervening years have seen The Boondock Saints become a bit of a cult classic, and this sequel is all about bringing back the fans to the video store: Once again, two McManus brothers are in Boston laying waste to the city’s criminal elements, and we’re supposed to cheer for them as the film provides a steady succession of shootouts. It’s supposed to be cool and funny, and writer/director Troy Duffy actually delivers on this promise: All Saints Day is often dedicated to pure fan-service, and those who haven’t seen the first film may feel left out of the fun. Beyond the winks, though, there’s a decently entertaining crime comedy, noticeably funnier than the and perhaps even more striking now that Tarantinoesque crime comedies don’t show up as often at the local Cineplex. This time, Julie Benz steps into Willem Dafoe’s shoes as the standout character: a drawling FBI agent so smart she “makes smart people feel like retards” but whose feistiness (and high heels) brings much to the film. Her character’s dramatic arc is nearly identical to Defoe’s in the prequel, reaching an apex during a crime scene re-creation, and then dwindling down in the film’s closing moments until a little bit of a twist. The other strong scene of All Saints Day belongs to David Della Rocco, who returns to the series just in time for an inspiring speech. Otherwise, the writing can be a bit hit-and-miss, but the overall result is faithful to the original in providing a mixture of righteous vigilante violence. (Too bad we also have to ignore the racist stereotypes, mild homophobia, low-budget corner-cutting or occasionally dull back-story.) Fans will be satisfied and non-fans are advised to look to the first film as an indication of whether this one will make them happy.
(On DVD, December 2009) After years of hearing about The Boondock Saints’s cult popularity on DVD (it never received a proper theatrical run, which explains why I missed it in the first place), I took the release of a sequel as a good reason to finally watch the film and see what the fuss was about. It turns out that the cult appeal of the film’s success is partly based on the material itself: the story of two catholic Boston brothers taking on the city’s organized crime, The Boondock Saints often feels like an extended apologia for vigilante justice and gunfight sequences. But writer/director Troy Duffy is a bit more self-aware than most: The ending (in which the villain is murdered) is reprehensible in the way most American action films are, but it assumes this blood-thirstiness. What’s a bit more disturbing is the way the film actually feels fun and cool: The pacing is right, the action beats are interesting, and the dialogue has good moments. Despite some puzzling moments (which you can either blame on a first script or a very low budget), the non-linear structure of the script works well and showcases its lead actors in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The standout performance here belongs to Willem Dafoe, who plays an ultra-competent FBI agent with gusto. (The sequences in which his mind meshes with the crime he’s investigating are as good as this film gets.) There’s also quite a bit of intriguing directing, with judicious use of hand-held and slow-motion cinematography. Otherwise, well, The Boondock Saints is a mixture of crime, comedy and violence and action that finds resonance in the works of John Woo and Quentin Tarantino, certainly not as fully mastered as them, but definitely aiming at the same targets. I’m a bit sorry I only saw it ten years after it came out. The DVD contains a sympathetic commentary by writer/director Duffy and another one by Billy Connolly.