Welcome to Movies I Loved That Are Actually Bad, a maybe one-time column about movies we loved at certain points in our lives that we—upon maturing—now realize are terrible. This time, and maybe the last time: The Boondock Saints.
Would I have loved director Troy Duffy’s The Boondock Saints (1999) as much as I did in high school had I known that it had come to be thanks to a bidding war that ended with Harvey Weinstein arriving at the bar where Duffy worked, offering him hundreds of thousands of dollars, and purchasing and gifting Duffy the very bar in which this deal was brokered? I want to say no, but the answer is probably yes. (Imagine if financing Boondock Saints was the worst thing that Harvey Weinstein did? What a wonderful world that would be!!)
To be fair to my 2002 self and my friends at the time, The Boondock Saints is created for someone with a soft, not-yet developed brain—a person who conflates fairly repulsive racism and sexism with irreverence and edge. (A mistake many still make today.) I can forgive myself for that, really, I can, but I don’t know if I can forget what I know now after watching it again—all because it happened to be free to rent on Amazon on a snowy March night in 2018—and realizing that it is among the dumbest movies ever made.
The Boondock Saints begins with a Catholic church service attended by our protagonists, Irish brothers Connor (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Murphy MacManus (Norman Reedus), during which the priest gives a damning, albeit error-riddled, sermon about Kitty Genovese, whose 1964 murder led to the deeper study and discussion of bystander syndrome.
“And I am reminded on this holy day of the sad story of Kitty Genovese,” says the priest as the McManus brothers walk out of church as he’s talking. “...This poor soul cried out for help time and time again, but no person answered her calls. Though many saw, no one so much as called the police. They all just watched as Kitty was being stabbed to death in broad daylight.”
Quick little fact check: Genovese was attacked at 2:30 a.m. outside her Queens apartment and—despite her case being an oft-used example of no one doing anything to help because they think someone else will, it was later revealed that multiple neighbors called the police. But why let “truth” get in the way when you have sweeping shots of Boston set to “The Blood of Cu Chulainn” to get to? Besides, it’s the Genovese story (coupled with a bizarre encounter with the Russian mob) that inspires the McManus brothers to become vigilantes and murder people they—based on a very wishy-washy standard—deem too evil to live. You might ask how they could be inspired when they didn’t even stay to hear the end of the sermon, but who knows and who cares? We have a variety of ethnic, gay, and disabled cartoons to meet, so let’s get going!
Among these cartoons is FBI agent Paul Smecker (a far-too-good-for-this Willem Dafoe), a detective savant with an equal passion for opera and cock. At one point, he slaps his lover and calls him a “faggot,” but in this world, that only makes him nuanced. Smecker first encounters the brothers when they turn themselves in after shooting/beating a couple men to death with the lid of a toilet (in self-defense, duh) and after a brief interrogation, they’re free to go. IT’S GOOD TO BE WHITE IN BOSTON, BABY! As the brothers grow more confident with—well—cold-blooded murder, Smecker is on their trail (though he doesn’t quite know who he’s trailing yet). Helping the McManuses in their mission to carry out justice is supposedly lovable buffoon Rocco (David Della Rocco), a package boy for the Italian mob who often feels emasculated because people like his boss—a mafioso who says the n-word a lot, because otherwise how would you, idiot audience member, get that he’s bad?—and the boss’s number two (a fellow frequent user of the n-word played by Ron Jeremy) think he’s nothing more than a clown. (They’re soon proven right.)
Rocco—infuriated by his superiors—shoots up a diner where the mobsters eat, but before that, he accidentally kills his girlfriend’s cat, something he’s not particularly sorry about. The cat is not gendered, but if it’s a girl, then she is the first female to appear on screen in the 45 minutes since the beginning of the film after Murphy punches a humorless lesbian feminist (played by Dot-Marie Jones) in the face. A speaking human woman doesn’t appear until the girlfriend and her friend ask about the whereabouts of the cat and Rocco points a gun to their heads. (THIS is funny because the women are drug addicts, lol.)
At this point in the film, there’ve been so many bad jokes (jokes I once admittedly knew by heart) and nonsensical decisions (both artistic and otherwise) that I was ready to turn the movie off—but then I got the idea for this column and carried on (much, I imagine, like the cast and crew of The Boondock Saints) out of obligation and good work ethic.
Another woman eventually appears on camera, this one a stripper, who is allowed to speak, though she passes out from fear immediately thereafter, after which Rocco sexually assaults her by groping her breast as she lies there unconscious. The McManus brothers—princes of morality and angels of death—have no real problem with this. Rocco promises to tip her. Everyone has a good laugh.
But the end comes for Rocco soon enough. His rebellion against his mob bosses catches up with him and he’s shot through the chest and dies. (Hope they tipped him!) It’s almost the end for the McManus bros, too, only guess what? The hitman ends up being... THEIR DAD? Record scratch. (Willem Dafoe’s there too, dressed like a lady in order to woo the guards and also because he’s gay. Remember he’s gay? Gay, and a detective? A gay man with a job that’s not “interior designer” or “hairdresser?” God, this movie is subversive.)
The familial bond is discovered not because the father (Billy Connolly), recently out of prison, recognizes his sons, but because he recognizes their family prayer as the brothers pray over dead Rocco’s dead body. (Perhaps because this whole film is set up to make you believe that bad guys deserve to die, I’m not that sad about this one dying!) As such, the brothers team up with their dad AND their cop zaddy Willem Dafoe to murder the mafia don during a trial at the courthouse. Yes, it all tracks. This penultimate scene is extremely powerful because (1) it features the film’s first black character, a judge, and (2) because of the way Norman Reedus pronounces “rape” as “rehp” with his learned Irish accent.
At the time of its release, The Boondock Saints was a critical disaster. Not only did Miramax drop the film after Duffy and Weinstein proved to be equally volatile partners (as demonstrated in the documentary Overnight), but it also came out in the aftermath of Columbine, a time when America was still fazed by mass shootings and wasn’t particularly keen on watching two men in all black shooting up people who they thought deserved to die. But in the following years, it gained a cult following that eventually turned mainstream, resulting in high DVD sales (16-year-old me can shoulder some blame for that) AND a sequel in 2009.
It doesn’t stop there: According to Cinema Blend, a THIRD Boondock Saints movie is in development because what is Hollywood supposed to do? Stop letting white men make mediocre movies? In your dreams!
This has been Movies I Loved That Are Actually Bad.