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The Boondock Saints is a glitzy, violent Tarantino wanna-be movie that has some stylish moves but remains a less than stellar entry in the gun fetish & gore sweepstakes. Some good playing by the lead actors brings life to characters that cater to the fashion in violence-chic. The heroes for writer-director Troy Duffy's sweepingly exploitative vigilante fantasy are the fraternal twin McManus brothers. They're devout Catholic angels with fiery swords who quote scripture and work their rosaries as they dish out a heavy body count of Italian and Russian mobsters. A mix of artless pretension and base impulses, The Boondock Saints would seem the perfect exploitation shoot-em-up brainkiller.
The movie has a fetishistic gun battle in every reel, separated by several minutes' worth of profanity that passes for dialogue. Fox's new Blu-ray is timed to help promote a new sequel, Boondock Saints II: All Saint's Day.
Uncommonly cool meatpackers Murphy and Connor McManus (Sean Patrick Flanery of Young Indiana Jones, & Norman Reedus) defend Irish honor in a bar fight against a pair of enormous Russian hoods, and not much later are forced to kill them in self-defense. Gay homicide detective Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe) uses brilliant deductions to analyze the bizarre crime scene, but the McManus boys turn themselves in, tell most of the truth and are let off for justifiable self-defense. Inspired by a press that labels them "The Boondock Saints", they decide to become vengeful instruments of The Lord's will by ambushing and murdering the local mobster scum. Joining them is "Funny Man" David Della Rocco (David Della Rocco) a numbers runner set up as a target by his own Italian bosses. Rocco adds a klutz factor that results in more than one high-style assassination going haywire. Detective Smecker slowly comes to realize the identity of the amazingly efficient vigilantes, but by then, he's not so sure he wants them stopped. The McManus twins are doing too good a job.
The Boondock Saints comes right out of Tarantino-land, but can't claim the finer points of theme or style to justify its posturing. Troy Duffy's script does show occasional wit and his choice of actors makes for some interesting ethnic neighborhood chemistry, but a couple of beers are recommended to get one through the script's ham-boned dramatic choices. The supporting characters are crude stereotypes united under the banner of nonstop profanity. Bartender Doc is a softie with a brain tic that causes him to constantly blurt out the words "F___ A__", usually in front of nuns. Dimwit Rocco is an amiable clown and total scumbag, and we're supposed to find him adorable.
A cross between Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, male models and comic book superheroes, the McManus boys respond to every situation with cute Irish attitudes. They walk in unison wearing dark coats, usually to musical accompaniment. Their lowlife approach to existence is a feint, see, because they also speak multiple languages fluently and are capable of reciting beautiful faux-Bible verse about their vigilante mission. They have no interest in girls; the only females that intersect their path are a giant brute-woman in the abattoir and a pair of beneath-contempt druggies at Rocco's place. The Boondock Saints is prime male self-love material.
The Tarantino comparison is not an idle one. The Bible-spouting talk seems a direct rip-off of Pulp Fiction. Other parallels are less specific, but one incident baldly copies Tarantino's accidental gun discharge scene, targeting a cat instead of a person. Duffy also staggers the time sequence for each of the ultra-violent set pieces. We see the lead-up to the slaughter, but then jump forward to Detective Smecker's investigation, after the fact. As Smecker miraculously intuits what went down, the film then flashes back to stylized shots of the actual killing. This is the film's most successful gambit, because it turns a Tarantino-like time warp into a structural motif. For the penultimate set piece Willem Dafoe's character becomes a phantom presence at the original shooting, watching and describing the action as it happens around him. If Dafoe were singing the sequence would resemble a classic-era musical fantasy. I recommend Troy Duffy undertake a new version of Brigadoon, with all the leading characters packing heat. He may be the perfect man for the job.
Top billed Willem Dafoe doesn't strain his acting ability playing the ace detective as a swishy Opera lover who goes into a ballet-like trance at crime scenes, invariably showing up the doofus cops around him. The effort to make every character an outrageously kooky original results in a movie with no self-control. Smecker is shown in bed with his gay lover, just to provide a cheap joke. Director Duffy's script is careful to exonerate the local priests from the mayhem but fully endorses the killing of the evil mobsters, who all happen to be broad-comedy Italian Americans and Russian immigrants. The moral equation here makes the crude exploitation of vigilante fantasies Death Wish and Walking Tall seem like weighty philosophical stuff. Borrowing a "What, me relevant?" card from Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, the ending uses on-the-street interviews in which (preview?) audience members voice their approval/disapproval of the McManus's crusade.
Director Duffy keeps up the forward momentum, but goes for the tacky stylistics whole-hog. Ordinary entrances and content-challenged connecting tissue are frequently filmed in slow motion, with music blaring. The shoot-out action is well blocked and quite dynamic as theses things go, which would be a definite plus if the emphasis wasn't placed on splattering blood and shattered people all over the scenery. One bloodbath in a fancy, white-upholstered meeting room impresses us until we realize that CGI manipulation was probably used to erase errant bloodstains left over from take one. The killings dwell on gross-out details that push the film over the edge into gore porn, like a twin bullet trajectory through a victim's head. It's just cool fun, man, what's the problem?
The Boondock Saints has a checkered and not very flattering history. It was a casualty of the April 1999 Columbine High School shooting, and played only a few days in theaters before being withdrawn. Critics were quick to point out that the teen mass murderers in Colorado behaved similarly to the movie's heroes, with the added trappings of gun worship and a mission-from-God agenda. The movie recovered in later foreign releases and home video and is now commonly marketed as a "cult sensation". It may be indicative of Blockbuster's hypocrisy that it refused to carry movies condemned by religious fringe groups, but released The Boondock Saints as a "Blockbuster Exclusive".
Fox's Blu-ray of The Boondock Saints is a clean-looking and colorful deluxe transfer of Troy Duffy's action exploitation epic. Theatrical and Unrated versions are included; as only one running time is given the information that the unrated cut is composed mostly of more violent alternate takes is probably true.
Several of the extras are repeated from earlier DVD releases. Both Troy Duffy's solo commentary and another by actor Billy Connolly (he plays one of the Italian baddies, "Il Duce") are on the Theatrical Cut. A selection of outtakes and deleted scenes are included, in the form of printouts from a non-linear editing system.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
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