Both the cult-canonized MacManus brothers and director Troy Duffy were just getting started when vigilante tale "The Boondock Saints" debuted a decade ago. But fate (in the form of the Columbine shootings) and ego (if behind-the-scenes expose "Overnight" is to be believed) intervened, sending the movie to DVD heaven and Duffy to director jail. Now, he picks up the original's open ending in "The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day," which feels larger in scope yet sorely lacking in originality, not unlike the 10-years-on reunion special it is. The audience is there, yet the limited release suggests a homevid strategy.
Considering that die-hard fans made the first "Boondock Saints" a must-watch action movie for the college crowd, it makes sense that Duffy would craft the sequel with them in mind. As such, "All Saints Day" focuses less on bringing newcomers up to speed than in injecting all the elements that presumably made the original such a success (including the favorite cast member whose involvement Duffy has publicly denied).
The movie opens in the Irish boondocks, with brothers Connor (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Murphy (Norman Reedus) sporting big, bushy beards and playing house with Poppa M (Billy Connolly) in their remote hideaway. Though the first movie ended with the trio promising to punish criminals whom the justice system couldn't touch, they've evidently spent the past eight years trying to escape the law themselves.
When they hear that their old neighborhood priest has been executed in their signature style -- two gunshots to the back of the head and pennies on the eyes -- the boys hop on the first slow boat back to the States, making friends with a feisty Mexican fighter en route (played by Clifton Collins Jr., the brother of casting director Veronica Collins Rooney). The murder may have been a setup, but it's enough to make the mob nervous that the Saints are back in action, leading to the same mix of bumbling comedy and trigger-happy panic that permeated the original.
In place of Willem Dafoe's gay detective, we get his equally over-the-top protege, Eunice Bloom ("Dexter's" Julie Benz), introduced via extreme closeup of her stiletto heels and exaggerated walk, echoing her mentor's philosophy that the best special agents dress like tranny hookers. She also shares his crime-scene m.o., plugging her ears and re-orchestrating the events for the benefit of the three goofy detectives who aided the Saints in the first film (through a projection error, this scene, as well as the end credits, were cut short at the screening reviewed).
Duffy is a capable enough director, but no visionary -- the blue-collar version of guys like John Woo and Quentin Tarantino (who weren't exactly highbrow to begin with), mixing self-conscious theatrics with the corniest of vulgar, un-PC dialogue.
What the "Boondock Saints" series delivers -- and the ending makes it perfectly clear we can expect more of them -- is a reliably stylish, action-packed experience that reinforces the straight, white fratboy's view of himself as top of the food chain. Collins' character is an excuse for off-color Mexican jokes, and Duffy doesn't seem to recognize how including gratuitous rear nudity of the two male leads might contradict the "not in a gay way" qualifiers his characters are constantly making.
Of course, there's an appeal to such above-the-law rule-breaking, and the pic feels like a throwback to the likes of "Dirty Harry" and "Shaft." But Duffy's delusions of grandeur extend even further, with "All Saints Day" serving as his "Godfather: Part II," complete with Coppola-lite flashbacks to the incident that launched Poppa M's score-settling career.
It's all meant to come together in a big confrontation with a sinister Mafia puppetmaster called "the Roman," whose identity is not revealed until the end, but Peter Fonda's presence made little impression on viewers at a UCLA screening, while his accent merely underlined the miscasting (was Christopher Walken not available?).
The film's style mirrors that of the original, which was already late to the "Reservoir Dogs" ripoff party and feels doubly dated now, with Duffy still relying on his old trick of cranking up the heavy metal and techno music to boost excitement. Action has evolved past the slow-motion, two-guns-blazing approach seen here, though it is refreshing to take in stunts without the distraction of shaky cameras and hyperkinetic cutting.