Troy Duffy's 1999 film debut "The Boondock Saints" is the textbook definition of a cult classic. Garnering an incredible fan base through DVD rental and sales, the story of two Irish-American brothers turned vigilantes showed no restraint. A solid 110-minutes of incessant profanity, violence, awkward humor, racism, and homophobia never bothered fans, nor did the fact that beneath the surface it was by and large, a Tarantino imitator. Ten years later, I can rewatch the movie and see it's not as smart as I thought it was and in many ways incredibly cringe worthy. It's a textbook b-movie, only elevated to that level by an insane performance from Willem Dafoe as the gay, cross-dressing FBI agent assigned to the case of the brothers. Dafoe's appearance as well as final act, glorified cameo by Billy Connolly as Il Duce, remain in this critic's memory as the film's two strong points.
Fast forward a decade, and Troy Duffy has done what many would say was impossible, see a sequel, "The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day" to completion. Carefully side-stepping the apparent downfall of Duffy, the result is a film that turns everything about its predecessor to 11. "All Saints Day" as a whole is not quite the b-movie the original was, but that doesn't stop some of it's parts from silencing the naysayers, that Duffy was a one-trick pony. What keeps "All Saints Day" from being a pretty good movie, as opposed to a merely "OK" movie; the same profanity, awkward humor, racism and homophobia, which made the original standout (for better or worse) a decade ago.
The film begins with much more plot and mystery than the original could ever hope to sport. The MacManus brothers, Connor (Sean Patrick Flannery) and Murphy (Norman Reedus), have spent a decade on the down low, living with their father, Il Duce, in Ireland. That is until a pint-sized, nameless assassin kills a priest and tries to frame the boys. Enter FBI Special Agent Eunice Bloom (Julie Benz), protégé of the late, Paul Smecker. As she explains to the trio of detectives from the first film (unwisely elevated from bit parts, to supporting comedic foils), this is a frame-up, with the sole purpose of bringing the boys out of hiding. Naturally, it works like a charm and soon after, the MacManus brothers are out of retirement and ready to do what they do best, kill criminals.
Duffy's script, plays a lot more light and loose in the film's first act, despite the attempt at giving the brothers a purposeful reason to eliminate the remaining mobsters in Boston. Early on, they pick up a sidekick, to replace dear departed friend, Rocco (David Della Rocco). Clifton Collins Jr. is handed the role of Romeo, a caricature of Hispanic machismo as grandiose, if not more so, than Dafoe's Smecker was of homosexuals. For every basic joke that falls flat, the ones whose backbone is consists of homophobia or racism, continue to limit Duffy's attempts to be taken seriously. For a guy who was derided as juvenile and spoiled by critics, to fill your second movie with high-school humor doesn't help matters. To Collins' credit though, he never reaches the levels of annoyance that Rocco did; instead, like Dafoe before him, he plays the character quite seriously, making the biggest clunkers of dialogue ("Ding dong, m-----------, ding dong!") garner a smile from the audience.
However, once things get hot and heavy and the boys are back at full speed, the tone shifts to the seriousness that filled the original; the humor is there, but it thankfully takes a backseat. I found myself liking the latter half of the film as a result but in turn, the sloppy opening sticks out like a sore thumb and the purpose of Romeo's character is ultimately negated. Make no mistake, the story doesn't tread much new ground, it's still very much cliche. The generic gangsters of the previous film have been replaced by the offspring of the film's last villain, a horribly miscast Judd Nelson. Julie Benz's performance desperately tries to mimic Dafoe's, only more loudly, right down to a stylized, explanation of a MacManus hit. A lot of what doesn't work though is masked by Duffy's great eye for action. The man can film a scene with noteworthy efficiency, making over-the-top shootouts seem cool once again. Then, in the final 20 minutes, Duffy shows everyone he's not a hack.
As the MacManus boys leave a pile of bodies in their wake to uncover the identity of the assassin framing them, their father, Il Duce, reflects on his own past through a handful of flashbacks. Duffy gives viewers answers to the most mysterious character in the entire series and does so without being heavy handed. The end result is a quiet, tense sit-down between two fine actors, Billy Connolly and Peter Fonda, that makes the journey from the film's now decidedly "blah" start all the more impressive. Ultimately "All Saints Day" is a success in the eyes of this critic, as the set-up for a third (and likely final) film, is met not with eye-rolling disdain, but piqued interest. "All Saints Day" isn't an award caliber movie, it begins with a sophomoric pace, likely the result of a much earlier script, but overcomes its stumbles with a satisfying, smartly filmed conclusion. Let's just hope Troy Duffy can grow a little more before making a third film, because despite how far he's come from his late 90s arrogance, the last traces of his love for juvenile dialogue continue to withhold full credibility.
The anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen presentation highlights Duffy's flair for loud set pieces, delivering solid contrast and color levels. Even the darkest surroundings build a strong source of lighting in, so shadows never obscure detail. A minimal amount of digital noise stands out as the only black mark on an otherwise, impressive low-budget affair.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio track is loud to a fault, most often when the film's soundtrack takes center stage. Dialogue and sound effect levels are all acceptable, but I found myself constantly turning the volume down during brief musical interludes. The rear soundstage sadly only gets a major workout during these obnoxious interludes and during two memorable shootouts. Additional French, Portuguese, and Thai 5.1 tracks are included as well as a standard surround in Spanish. English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai subtitles are included as well as English subtitles for the hearing impaired.
The DVD isn't as loaded as the Blu-Ray in the extras department, but the most substantial features are ported. First up are two commentaries, the first being a very light affair from Duffy and the MacManus family: Flannery, Reedus, and Connolly. The second track is much more enlightening, featuring Duffy on his own, until halfway through where he's joined by a very special guest [HIGHLIGHT TO READ SPOILER] (Willem Dafoe) that will make Boondock fans very happy. Duffy is very respectful of the fans that made the original film a success and much less full of himself.
Rounding out the extras are two, wisely deleted scenes, an extended behind-the-scenes/promotional featurette titled "Unprecedented Access", where some of the old Duffy ego is on display. Last but not least, is a nearly ten-minute sit down conversation with Duffy and Connolly.
"The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day" is, on a whole, no better nor glaringly worse than it's predecessor. Instead, it sends viewers on a very wary ride, beginning with a clunky first act, before slowly evolving into the expected, enjoyable b-movie. The cast, by and large, does their best to make the imperfect script work, while Duffy's visual skill acts as a still wet coat of paint, hiding the majority of the minor imperfections. Remove the juvenile homophobia and racism populating the earlier sections of film, drop the Romeo character, and let Julie Benz add her own spin on Eunice Bloom, and you would have had a film that truly left it's roots in the dust. In short, the movie is more than a little dumb, but is smart enough at the right times to be worth watching. Recommended.