The MacManus brothers (Sean Patrick Flannery and Norman Reedus), the titular duo who, in the first Boondock Saints, meted out violent retribution to Boston’s organized criminals, end every assassination with a prayer about being the lord’s shepherds–they’re Irish-Catholic, by the way. As the sequel to 1999’s cult hit opens, the brothers are back in Ireland working as actual shepherds alongside their father (Billy Connolly). This is just the first of the tropes from the original film that the much-anticipated sequel reprises and amplifies very self-consciously and gracelessly. Save this brief pastoral prologue and the addition of a Mexican character (Romeo, played by Clifton Collins Jr.) to the Irish-versus-Italian scenario, Boondock Saints II mostly recycles and upgrades gags and set pieces from the first. This calculated niche audience-targeting strategy will surely please the fanboys (and the very few fangirls) who championed the original, but will leave everyone else confused, annoyed and probably offended.
There’s an undeniable appeal to the charming brothers and their drunken, profane, slow-motion-violent and righteous ways. Their cause is a throwback to the vigilante justice movies of the 60s and 70s like the Dirty Harry series, taking over where the official forces of the law prove ineffectual. This dark angelic cause is especially problematic here for almost always being carried out by Irish Americans against Italian Americans. Basically, writer-director Troy Duffy has earned himself a devoted following by tapping into centuries of Irish shame and emasculation. One stylized sequence early on adopts the soundtrack and stunt style of a blaxploitation movie, a reference that couldn’t be more apt. The MacManus brothers are a violent, racist, sexless fantasy of Irish American empowerment: Boondock Saints is celtsploitation.
As such, Boondock Saints 2 ups the Irish–although it abandons the consistently rousing Celtic music deployed throughout the first in favor of grating, mediocre hard rock–from the homeland opening to the flashbacks to Daddy MacManus’s origin story in 50s New York City when he was betrayed by, guess who, an Italian! As if the underlying culture war at the heart of this franchise’s mythology weren’t already loaded enough, Duffy piles on the ethnic caricatures: the hapless Chinese gangsters, Collins Jr.’s overly emotional and colorful (so, obviously, probably gay) Mexican wrestler and gunslinger, and the Southern FBI suit Eunice Bloom (Julie Benz), basically replacing Willem Dafoe, who stole the first film in drag. Here, still, the new players are just amped-up versions of the originals. The Chinese drug dealers replace the Russian meatheads, comic relief Romeo replaces Rocco (David Della Rocco, who still makes some dream sequence cameos), and Agent Bloom immediately falls into her predecessor’s pattern of intuiting entire crimes, then walking through the violence as she narrates it.
The franchise’s trademark narrative shuffle–where we witness the moments leading up to the crime, then see it as the ace cop recreates it for her subordinates and the audience like an orchestra conductor–doesn’t really go anywhere new, so Duffy puts Benz in a cowboy outfit in the climactic firefight to keep our interest. All the subordinates are back doing more of what they did in the first: the comically inept trio of local Boston detectives (Brian Mahoney, Bob Marley and David Ferry), the stuttering, Tourette’s-afflicted bartender Doc (Gerard Parkes), and even the stoic Irish arms dealer (Tom Barnett). The most inexplicable addition to the story is the copycat killer (Aaron Berg) who lures the Saints back to town by executing a priest in the opening scene. Aside from being hired by Daddy MacManus’ old Italian enemy (Peter Fonda) to bring the clan back, his principle motivation for being a mercenary seems to be an over-determined complex about his shortness–he’s 5’5”, which prompts everyone to refer to him as “the little man.”
In fact, all deviation from the Irish-Catholic norm in the Saints’ universe is cause for ridicule: this is an integral part of the film’s fantasy. That makes the addition of a viable female character in Agent Bloom a welcome yet weirdly unsuccessful antidote to all the whisky-infused testosterone. As a representative of normality from beyond the film’s immediate setting, she casts the Saints in a new light, and comes off as something of a puppet-master, orchestrating all their executions. Her awkward interactions with the group and overwhelmingly unfunny jokes probably indicate the limits of Duffy’s ability as a writer and director, and make you wish that the next sequel (which seems inevitable) doesn’t import too many caricatured outsiders into its green-blooded Boston milieu–where, presumably, there are Irish women too. Besides, where else could murderous working-class Irish alcoholics possibly be praised as Saints?
Opens October 30