Exploiting our Archives: This Looks Terrible! The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day
When Harvey Weinstein’s world came crashing down around him, exposing the ugliness and terror and fear at the heart of so much of the independent film world, I found myself thinking about Troy Duffy, the would-be Enfant terrible behind the terrible Pulp Fiction knockoff The Boondock Saints.
Because I am a big weirdo, I find myself thinking a lot about Troy Duffy. He represents something in both humanity and show-business that I find endlessly fascinating: unhinged narcissism tethered to a complete dearth of self-consciousness and self awareness. When I read that Duffy is a big influence on Jon Wurster of Scharpling & Wurster fame, it made perfect sense, because Wurster specializes in oblivious egomania and unearned, unmerited aggression. Those are some of Duffy’s defining features as an entertainer and as a man.
Harvey Weinstein destroyed the lives and careers of probably thousands of men and women, both personally and professionally. Duffy was unfortunate enough to have documentary cameras trained on him, by people with ample reason to despise him and long for revenge, when Harvey Weinstein crushed Duffy’s fragile career in retribution for the narcissistic young filmmaker shit-talking him around town because he was irritated that Weinstein took his time developing The Boondock Saints instead of treating it as his first and only priority.
Duffy is so loathsome that he actually made people root for Harvey Weinstein. Overnight, the guilty-pleasure, schadenfreude-rich documentary on the making and unmaking of The Boondock Saints and Troy Duffy, ends with Weinstein victorious, as usual. The Boondock Saints was barely released and Duffy eventually found himself working a straight job in a bar after failing to secure consistent work as a filmmaker.
That was then. This is now. There are many, many unfathomably sad and dispiriting elements of Weinstein’s downfall. One of them is the all-consuming delight Duffy must be experiencing at his arch-nemesis’ downfall. Because there are dramatic downfalls, like, say, Troy Duffy’s in Overnight, that we gossip about and take malevolent delight in, and then there are downfalls like Harvey Weinstein’s, the after-effects of which we'll still be feeling decades from now.
As today’s Exploiting the Archives piece recounts, I recently re-visited Overnight for my Sub-Cult column at Rotten Tomatoes two months before the scandal broke because I wanted to once again glory in Duffy’s failure and misfortune. When I went to a book fair the day after writing my Overnight piece and saw The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day in a dollar bin, I figured that it was the universe’s way of telling me I should watch, and then write about, this piece of shit film. Because seriously, fuck Troy Duffy. Fuck Troy Duffy for the Boondock Sants saga and fuck Troy Duffy for his little 13 year old bully brain and fuck Troy Duffy and all the sad people who worship at the altar of the vulgar little cartoon comic book world Troy Duffy created.
Ah, but enough Troy Duffy style profanity. Let’s get to the movie.
We open in Ireland, where the our heroes, Connor McManus (Sean Patrick Flannery) and Murphy McManus (Norman Reedus) have these totally wicked-ass Jesus beards and shit, because they’re in hiding after doing the wickedest, most awesome shit ever involving wasting this evil dude in public cause that’s what they do: they kill evil motherfuckers to make the world a better place. They kill motherfuckers who need to be killed, although the movie deals with their actions with no small degree of moral ambiguity: at times, the movie seems to find the brothers’ vigilante murders so fucking incredible that it’s like “Holy shit, did you see that!?! Fuck yeah!” Other times, it strikes a more pensive, reflective note, and is instead more like, “Oh my God! That was amazing! World-class baller status! Boondocks Saints! Boondock Saints!”
Our heroes are lured out of hiding when someone frames the brothers for the murder of a beloved Priest using the patented murder methods and rituals that helped make the bros/brothers folk heroes for their mind-blowing coolness.
Like many protagonists of lesser action films of the aughts, the McManus brothers spend much of their time cos-playing as Neo (and, in this case, Neo’s equally cool brother) with live ammo, blowing people away in stylized slow motion to the familiar throb of bad techno music. It’s John Woo for kindergartners, the cinema of cool at its infantile worst.
The movie’s ridiculously over-crowded plot (Gotta fill up those nearly two fucking hours somehow, and yes, of course this has The Godfather: Part II-style flashbacks to the old country in olden times) finds the brothers in the middle of a war involving figures like Concezio Yakavetta (Judd Nelson), the malapropism-spouting son of the mob boss the MacManuses killed at the end of The Boondocks Saints, a mysterious figure known only as “The Old Man” (Peter Fonda) and a bunch of would-be scene-stealers who strive so hard to be memorable that I’ve already forgotten them all.
A scene where Concezio, who has Al Pacino's agitated, high-volume rasp and Robert De Niro’s hunched over gait, addresses his underworld colleagues, ending with him smacking one with a giant salami, is so derivative of the baseball bat scene in The Untouchables that the storyboards should have just been still images from Brian De Palma’s film with Judd Nelson’s head taped over Robert De Niro’s. And when Judd Nelson is the best you can get for the middle-aged Robert De Niro role, maybe it’s time to pack it in.
Ah, but the unsinkable Troy Duffy just keeps going.
The brothers are secretly aided by a sexy lady special agent I will address later and a trio of bumbling cops who are like The Three Stooges but dumber and more cartoonish. Heck, they’re such buffoons that they’re not even like the real Three Stooges. Instead, they’re like like the Robonic Three Stooges of the 1970s, which re-imagined the eye-poking triumvirate as robotic crime-fighters.
Yet All Saints Day somehow asks us to still be in awe of its cool when much of its screen time is devoted to law enforcement clowns so buffoonish that they do everything short of visibly shit themselves in fear and stupidity. No wait, they do that as well. The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day totally has a dude shitting himself. It’s that extreme.
The brotherhood of the Wandering Irish Brogues is assisted in their murderous misadventures by new sidekick Romeo, (Clifton Collins Jr.), a mullet-sporting Mexican maniac on hand mainly to soak up punches, ethnic slurs and continually deny being gay. Then again, a lot of people talk about how they’re not gay in The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day. In the world of toxic masculinity, it is a perpetually popular topic of conversation.
All Saints Day seems intent on one-upping its predecessor in sweaty, desperate gay panic. Duffy is so enamored of the concept of men being sodomized in colorful ways that he has Judd Nelson’s mob boss say, “These sons of bitches prison-fucked us! In the ass! And then they wiped their dicks on our grandma’s drapes!” and one of the Keystone Kops fret, “We are totally fucked! And not just fucked, like, elephant dick pounded in the ass, no reach around Jungle fucked!”
Jungle-fucked, elephant dick pounded in the ass, prison-fucked: Duffy sure spends a lot of time thinking of flamboyant ways to describe penises invading anuses. Sodomy Monthly isn’t as obsessed with penises going into anuses as The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day is. Ass-Fucking Weekly isn’t even as interested in the intersection of penis and anus as All Saints Day is. How homoerotic is Duffy’s sequel? The movie’s XXX gay parody, The Butt-fucking Saints II: Anal Saints Gay, has a lot less talk about butts and penises and being fucked up the ass than its ostensibly straight inspiration.
All this talk of penises and butts and penises sounds pretty gay, huh? Hardly! I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a film with more dialogue involving characters aggressively and unnecessarily asserting that they are not homosexuals. That consequently makes this the most heterosexual movie ever made, and not a strange, toxic cocktail of homophobia, gay panic and homoeroticism.
All Saints Day is hopelessly over-impressed by itself. It introduces female lead Julie Benz stilettos-first, then leers at her legs as if to say, “Aw, yeah, we’ve got a sexy-ass woman in the movie! Boobs! Legs! Butt! This ladies got it all! PLUS attitude! When was the last time you saw a sexy fucking lady in a movie? C’mon! We got something no other movie has: a sexy lady with—and this also is unprecedented, has a Foghorn Leghorn-thick drawl. Where else are you gonna see shit like that? Fuck yeah! It’s Carny-fuckingly original!”
All Saints Day doesn’t seem to realize that pretty much every movie has at least at one sexy lady, and most have a few. Hell, if I remember correctly, Kill Bill and Death Proof were veritably chockablock with sexy ladies, and also they had good dialogue. That is not true here, although Duffy sure tries to hit it out of the park with every big-grinning line of dialogue, including the eminently quotable, “I am so fucking smart I make smart people feel like they’re retarded” which Benz’s very special agent says to the film’s astonished Keystone Cops to establish her intellectual bona fides.
Duffy understandably believes that dialogue couldn’t possibly follow a bon mot like that. Indeed, all language, visual and written, is powerless before that quip’s power and beauty so we cut immediately to the next scene. Incidentally, I could very easily imagine Donald Trump telling someone that he’s’ so fucking smart that he makes other smart people feel like they’re the R word, and that is never a good thing.
Hey, you know what genuinely smart people have in common? They don’t need to go around telling everyone how smart they are. Instead, they illustrate that intelligence through their words and action like grown-ups with dignity, not nine year olds who need to tell the world how great they are.
I found The Boondock Saints so odious and morally repellent that I found myself losing a little respect for some of the actors for appearing in it, and I am generally of the mindset that if you’re a character actor you gotta chase that money whatever disreputable avenues it leads you. But I feel like smart, accomplished, talented veterans like Billy Connolly, Peter Fonda and Willem Dafoe all should be above this pandering juvenile delinquent jerk off nonsense. Hell, Judd Nelson’s above it and that guy’s terrible.
Then again, if you’re an actor, it must be difficult to resist a role that on paper promises to be not just meaty but mythic. All Saints Day is so in love with its own mythology, that literally a half dozen characters here could have, “World class badass-as deadly as they are super-cool” in their log lines, including the Boondock Saints, Julie Benz and Billy Connolly and Peter Fonda’s powerful patriarchs.
When Willem Dafoe pops up at the very end to serve as a link between the first and second film, and possible bridge to a third, it feels less like an actor doing a favor for a friend than a strangely grievous violation of good taste. Seriously, Dafoe? You’re going to honor this testosterone-poisoned nonsense with your time and energy and presence? Why? Why? Why does anyone believe in Troy Duffy’s vision?
Here’s the fucked up thing: a lot of people really do believe in Troy Duffy. Hell, in a lot of sad little boys’ minds, The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day really is a cult phenomenon, maybe not on par with the original, but still a film worth caring about and celebrating and defending and seeing repeatedly. There are dudes (no men, only dudes and guys and a whole lot of bros) who would lose their shit if they saw Julie Benz in a bar and would be overwhelmed with a deeply embarrassing urge to ask her what it was like to team up with the legendary McManus brothers.
Troy Duffy lost the battle for theatrical box office both times around. The Boondock Saints II got made because the first film did so well on home video. According to Wikipedia, the tardy sequel made over fifty million dollars on home video. I believe that, because there are a lot of stupid little white boys of all ages and genders in the world, as the Presidential election also illustrated. So Duffy kind of ended up winning the war, particularly where Weinstein is concerned. His future in the biz is certainly rosier than Weinstein’s. Then again, that's true of almost everybody, including the dad from Alf who smoked crack with homeless dudes. And he might actually be dead! Nevertheless, he's still doing better than Harvey.
What’s depressing is that in a very real way, this shit is iconic, and this shit is cult, and this shit has reached a sizable, intense, loyal following just like Duffy always intended. So it doesn’t matter that I somehow found The Boondocks Saint II: All Saints Day to be even an even more juvenile and inane exercise in self-parody and self-mythology than I had anticipated, because the movie reached the people it needed to reach.
In the end, one bad guy won, and another bad guy lost as a cautionary tale of young auteuristic ego run amok was succeeded, if not entirely replaced, by a much bigger, much more important and far-ranging cautionary tale of power abused and lives destroyed.
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