A belated entry in the hipster crime movie movement that began with “Reservoir Dogs,” Troy Duffy’s “Boondock Saints” mixes blood and Catholic-tinged vigilante justice in excessive portions for sometimes wacky and always brutal effect. More interested in finding fresh ways to stage execution scenes than in finding meaning behind the human urge for self-appointed righting of wrongs, pic is stuffed with effects that have no lasting impact. Highlighted by Willem Dafoe’s most eccentric turn since his deranged Bobby Peru in “Wild at Heart,” this limited release will fly under the radar of most gunslinger fans, who will catch up with it at their local vid hangout.
Boston brothers Conner and Murphy MacManus (Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus) make their entrance dressed in black, but otherwise there’s little that’s menacing about them as they attend Mass and fool around on St. Patrick’s Day at their meat-packing-plant jobs and at the local watering hole. But as they later tell Dafoe’s brilliant, gay FBI investigator Paul Smecker (shown by Duffy in the first of an elaborate series of jazzy flashbacks), the brothers wreak havoc on a group of Russian Mafia thugs threatening to close down the pub. Having killed the Russians in self-defense, the multilingual Connor and Murphy are freed by Smecker and praised as “saints” in the Boston Herald.
Realizing their newfound skills as vigilantes, the brothers use their language skills to penetrate the Russian Mafia’s upper echelon, turning a near-botched job into an absurdly surprising mass execution of unsuspecting mobsters. Stumbling onto the bloody scene is the excitable Rocco (David Della Rocco), under the thumb of Italian mob boss Yakavetta (Carlo Rota) and his underboss Vincenzo (former porn star Ron Jeremy, who has added Hyatt to his screen name). Emboldened by the brothers’ religious convictions that they are avenging angels ridding God’s world of bad people, Rocco joins forces with them after he realizes that Yakavetta set him up to be killed by the Russians.
This leads to further ultra-violent rampages, which Duffy stages with virtually erotic pleasure: A mass shooting of porn shop customers (including a self-pleasuring Jeremy Hyatt) contains more sexiness than any of the sex on view. The nonstop slaughter is sickening in itself, but it really turns the stomach of Yakavetta, who decides to arrange freedom for “Il Duce” (a fearsome Billy Connolly), a monstrous lifer skilled at snuffing out goodfella types.
All of these killings, moreover, are intercut with Smecker investigating the crime scene and reconstructing it in his mind — the visual cue that he’s of one mind with these righteous brothers. Pretentiously ludicrous finale includes a massive firestorm and is set to music from “La Boheme.”
Script doggedly resists explaining the brothers’ true motivations. Hardly interested in the ideas bubbling under the surface, pic instead revels in stylish gunfire in the thin guise of twisted Catholicism. Duffy saves his most interesting touch for the end, unreeling a series of mock-docu clips of Bostonians both praising and condemning the brothers.
Dafoe is all over the map, while Flanery and Reedus are curiously stolid and blank, constricted by characters who are mere mouthpieces devoid of passion. Della Rocco’s maniacal manner, by contrast, is painful to watch. In rich support, Connolly and Rota make the most of their every bloodthirsty moment onscreen.
This uneven exercise in pacing and cutting is abetted by an eclectic score by Jeff Danna and whiz lensing by Adam Kane. Other tech credits on Toronto-shot pic fire bull’s-eyes.