January 9, 2013

The Boondock Saints

Quentin Tarantino. The very name conjures up boundless admiration in some, unbridled vitriol in others. Those of us in the middle are rather taken aback by either reaction. I liked Reservoir Dogs--surprisingly, I like it more each time I see it--and loved Pulp Fiction, but I've never been much motivated to go out and find more of his stuff. Django Unchained has shown that Tarantino remains a critical darling, but then again, critics raved about Kill Bill, one of the more depressing and unpleasant cinema experiences I've had. I freely admit that his films aren't really about anything, that they're the ultimate triumph of style over substance. But that's okay, I don't mind occasionally taking in such works, as long as it's well-done style. And there's no denying Tarantino is a talented filmmaker, though as I've said, his talent lies more in his screenwriting than in his directing.

The worst thing about Tarantino--other than the fact that he comes off as needy, haughty jerk--is the imitators he inspired. I've already written about people still ripping off Pulp Fiction after 20 years, but it deserves another mention. I can think of nothing better than to quote Ken Begg of Jabootu, in his review of the Christian Slater Pulp Fiction wannabe Hard Cash:

"Tarantino’s work seemed to revolve around easily replicated elements: Casts of faded, formerly ‘cool’ stars; hipster dude haircuts and suits; discursive conversations full of pop culture references, constant profanity and casual racial invective; overwrought stylistic elements, including the heavy use of slo-mo; sudden bursts of horrific violence, portrayed with baroque visual flair, and lots of ‘70s pop music on the soundtrack.
The thing that those who seek to imitate Tarantino don’t get is that he’s not primarily a director....He’s a screenwriter. And while he has his characteristic stylistic tics, as enumerated above, he brings a lot more to the table than that. And so his apers copy the profanity but miss the poetry of his dialog. They include the abrupt violence but miss the intense characterizations that motivate it. They include the snarky pop culture references but forgo the fierce and playful intelligence behind Tarantino’s use of them."

Now, some people are good at imitating Tarantino. Guy Ritchie, before he went insane and married Madonna (not necessarily in that order), was one of these. Other people, like Troy Duffy, are not.

Who's Troy Duffy? He's the egregious shit-bag who incubated The Boondock Saints in his womb of bad ideas and then huffed and puffed and squeezed out its bloody, pulsing stillborn corpse into the...bedpan of the...the hospital room, where--okay, I lost my metaphor there. Anyhow, Duffy's hatred of women would make Kim Ki-duk suggest he tone it down a little. In fact, Duffy's film hates you, hates filmmaking, hates everything in the world. It's truly one of the most morally bankrupt, ludicrous, and godawful pieces of cinematic crap you've never seen, and you will truly be a sadder, angrier person for the rest of your life if you make the soul-crushing mistake of seeing it. Plus, it wastes a pretty decent Willem Dafoe performance, which makes me think of Body of Evidence. That alone is enough to consign Duffy to whatever Hell awaits shitty hack filmmakers who force their lead actors to talk like Lucky the Leprechaun.

Remember True Lies, when Jamie Lee Curtis asks the Governator if he's ever killed anyone and he replies, "Yeah, but they were all bad"? That's this movie, minus the wit, charm, comic timing, and desire to continue living under the same sky as the people who made it. The Boondock Saints takes place in a hellish, dystopian Boston that all women have left to move to a real city or have died or are hiding just off-camera. Okay, that's not true, but it is true that there are hardly any women in the movie. The two leads talk about their father but never mention their mother, they don't have girlfriends and sleep shirtless next to each other, none of the cops in the city of Boston is female...it's just weird the way women are almost completely absent from the movie. And sister, when they do appear...but we'll get to that.

The film tells the story of the titular Saints, two Irish-American brothers whose names I never caught. Yes, I've seen this film twice and neither time did I get the names of the two leads. This is partly because their performances are the worst in the film--at least until Ron Jeremy(!) shows up--and partly because Troy Duffy is a terrible filmmaker. Wikipedia says they are "Connor" (Sean Patrick Flanery) and "Murphy" (Norman Reedus), apparently chosen by Duffy to be the most stereotypically "Irish" names possible, and that's good enough for me. We are introduced to the Brothers McManus in a cathedral(!) during a Mass(!!) while jaunty "Irish" bagpipe music plays(!!!). While the priest is sermonizing, the brothers get up, blow right past him, go up onto the altar, kiss Jesus's feet, and walk out. Now I'm not a Catholic, but I'm pretty sure you can't approach the altar if you aren't ordained, especially with the Eucharist laid out upon it. The priest is talking about Kitty Genovese, and Troy Duffy knows as much about her case as he does about Catholicism, which is jack shit. Everything the priest--and therefore, Duffy--says about the Genovese case is wrong.

--Genovese did not cry out "time and time again", but probably only once.
--Several people in fact did "so much as call the police" shortly after the initial attack.
--No one simply "watched". A few people saw what happened in the first attack but, since it was dark and Genovese didn't scream until after she was stabbed, only one of them happened to be in a position to see the stabbing.
--No one saw Genovese "being stabbed to death". She didn't die until the second attack, which no one saw.
--The attacks occurred at night, not "broad daylight".
--No one saw her assailant at all after the initial stabbing. The killer was in fact arrested on an entirely separate charge and confessed to the Genovese murder.

Duffy, if you're going to steal from a real life tragedy to bolster your shitty Tarantino-knockoff exploitation flick, at least get it right.

While relaxing at their favorite pub (which also has no women in it), they get into a brawl with a Russian mob soldier...for some reason...and the mobster tracks them the next day to their pad, intending to kill one brother and (I guess) leave the other alive to live with it. The brothers make out like the mobster is all butthurt because he and his boys got whomped by a few drunks in a dive bar, so I guess they were too drunk to remember that after they won the fight they strapped the mobster to the bar and set his ass on fire! Who could've possibly guessed a mobster would seek revenge for an insult like that? (That is if getting beat up by a bunch of drunks in a pub isn't enough for him to come after them, which it is.) One brother drops their toilet from the roof of their building onto the mobster (don't ask), allowing the second brother to use the toilet lid to beat the mobster's buddy to death. Then they rob the two corpses (our heroes!) and go to the hospital to deal with their wounds.

Actually, we don't see most of that yet. We see the mobster acting tough just before the brawl breaks out, and then we cut to the police examining the mobster's body. Why? Because, well, Quentin Tarantino jumps around in time and jumps forward to the aftermath of a chaotic scene before revealing what happened in bits of flashback, so that's what Duffy's trying to do. Only he sucks at it, so instead of what happened slowly revealed to us in fragments, we just get the whole scene later (the barfight, the ass-burning, and the mobster's revenge-gone-awry all together), making you just wish Duffy had shown it in order. Actually, you just wish he hadn't shown it at all.

In the meantime, we get to watch the only thing actually enjoyable in this movie: FBI Special Agent Paul Smecker (Dafoe), who takes over the homicide investigation from the Boston cops because it involves a mobster. This gent arrives on the scene and immediately shows up the detective who thought he'd figured out what happened so that we "get" Smecker is a crime-solving genius, and he does this all the while listening to opera through headphones (Tarantino quirkiness!). It's a scene so cliche I could predict the dialogue as if I'd written it myself, but Dafoe, as he always does no matter how good (Shadow of the Vampire) or bad (Spider-Man) the material, throws himself into the role, and his casual disdain for the lesser intellects around him makes the scene more entertaining than it has any right to be.

Smecker figures out that it wasn't a mob hit and orders one cop to search for two shell casings and another to go to the nearby building to question potential witnesses. Maybe 20 seconds later, the first cop is complaining he's only found one of the casings. Well, you're in a dingy city alley full of filth and trash there, smart guy. I think it'll take more than glancing around your immediate area to find two tiny spent shell casings. Then the second cop returns and says he found a witness on the fourth floor. So this guy went all the way to the fourth floor, found somebody there, had an entire conversation with her in which he learned what Smecker asked him to learn, and came all the way back down in less than a minute? Either this guy is the fucking Flash, or Troy Duffy hired an editor that is fully his equal as director and screenwriter.

The brothers turn themselves in and are left alone in the interrogation room, and then Smecker comes in and questions them together. Okay, so first you have the FBI taking over a homicide case from city police just because it involves a mobster, and now you have a detective leaving suspects alone to cook up a story, even letting them whisper to each other before answering his questions. Christ, anyone who's seen a single episode of Law & Order knows more about police work than Duffy. The brothers reveal they speak several languages, even though they will never use any of them in any of the coming scenes.

It turns out Smecker already knew...somehow...that it was self-defense, so he's not going to charge them. (Then why did he have them arrested in the first place? Um...right.) This immediately makes front page news--yes, the release of two suspects in the death of a Russian mob soldier makes the front page in Boston--and the brothers are community heroes. I guess Smecker didn't ask about how they robbed the dead men, or maybe Bostonians figure that if you kill a guy in a fight, you're entitled to his stuff. They spend the night shirtless in jail to avoid a media circus, and during the night God tells them to kill bad people, so they decide they will. They go to a room full of guns during which, I shit you not, romantic music plays, as they lovingly caress the instruments of power by which they will wash all the scum from the streets. They decide to off the Russian mob boss, and despite completely screwing up their entry so that they end up hanging from the ceiling by a rope entangling their feet, they somehow take out eight armed men and then brutally execute the unarmed boss. Hilariously, they take a moment to attach silencers to their pistols before they kill him, even though they just shot the room to pieces with unsilenced weapons. Then the brothers' best friend the Funny Man (David Della Rocco) shows up.

I haven't mentioned "the Funny Man" yet, an errand boy for the Italian mob. He has a name, but names aren't this movie's specialty, so I'm going with "the Funny Man", even though he has an excruciating "comedy" scene with the Italian mob boss that had me begging my TV to blow a fuse and shut down. Actor Rocco gives the most enjoyable performance apart from Dafoe, since he at least has some energy and screen presence, but the guy playing the mob boss--who somehow runs a Mafia family despite being called "Papa Joe"--is fucking awful. After putting their masks back on and making Funny think they're going to kill him, the brothers reveal they're just kidding and help Funny figure out that the mission Papa Joe gave him to kill the Russians was a suicide job to get Funny killed. Funny decides he wants in on the bad guy slaying, and he and the brothers declare they will wipe out "evil men" like pimps and drug dealers. So running prostitutes and selling drugs are crimes worthy of death? I'm not saying pimps and drug dealers are good wholesome folks, but I can think of people much more worthy of summary execution, like Nancy Grace and Bono.

The Saints take out Papa Joe's underboss (Ron Jeremy, so not a moment too soon), so Joe calls in Il Duce. Imagine my disappointment when we cut not to the corpse of Mussolini reanimated by the nether powers of Sicilian magic and toting a submachine gun but to some old guy in a beard from a cheap Gandalf costume. This guy is "The Duke", which isn't what "Il Duce" means in modern Italian. (God, you'd think by chance Duffy could get something right.) The Duke is supposedly so fierce that the mob only calls on him when they're in really deep shit, so what does he do when he confronts the Saints despite having absolutely no way of knowing their location? Why, he stands in plain sight in broad daylight firing off endless rounds of ammunition from his dual pistols, failing to hit them just as they fail to hit him. Yeah, I can see why you needed this tactical wizard, who apparently shops at the same store Neo bought his "vest that has a bijillion holsters" at, allowing him to drop his guns when they're empty and immediately draw two more loaded ones.

Actually The Duke does hit each of them, though naturally this will in no way affect their ability to mow down baddies, but then he gets bored and leaves. The Saints retreat and tend to their wounds, while Smecker gets drunk and goes to confession. He's figured out, you see, who the Saints are and what they're doing, but after some spiritual soul-purifying talk in the confessional booth, he decides--and I hope you're sitting down--not to turn them in. Funny Man wants to take Smecker out because he could always change his mind, but the Brothers McManus put the kibosh on that because Smecker is a good man and they don't kill good men. The next day Smecker meets up with a retired mobster, who tells him Papa Joe brought in The Duke to take out the brothers, and Smecker gets a panicked look and leaves in a hurry. Then, and I swear to God this happens, we cut to the Saints in Joe's house, tied to chairs and being interrogated.

Um...is there a reel missing? How the hell were they found? When? Who found them? How were they captured? You might think we're getting another of Duffy's flashbacks, but no. It's never explained how, when, where, or by whom they were captured. Stupid movie.

This scene almost reaches of the level of something you might find in a real, honest-to-God, actual movie, as the brothers seem poised to meet the fate that a couple of untrained nobodies who pick up some guns and think they're going to take down organized crime would undoubtedly meet. But no, after Funny Man bites it for some pathos (oh, please), the brothers are rescued when The Duke shows up and...reveals that he's their long-lost father. No. That's not true! That's impossible!

The film ends with the Saints and Darth Duke storming a courthouse--whose metal detectors apparently work on the honor system, since there's no one manning them to ensure people actually walk through them--and brutally executing Papa Joe before he gets away with his crimes due to lack of evidence. This time they don't even bother with the masks, so I guess Bostonians are totally with Smecker on the whole "let the vigilantes murder whomever they deem evil" thing. Tough town, Boston. 

Yes, Troy Duffy's solution to crime: Let a couple of Irish knuckleheads appoint themselves judge, jury, and executioner and allow them free rein in your city. I'm sure the NRA would be on board.

Now, let's talk about how Troy Duffy is a gay man who views women as sex objects. Simmer down there, Sandra Dee. Don't blow a headgasket! Let me explain.

The male gaze. For those of you who aren't familiar, it's the claim that images--film, television, advertisements--are generally presented to the viewer as if he is a straight male. Take your typical piece of misogynist tripe that passes for a modern comedy: Female nudity is sexy and appealing, while male nudity is either absent or presented for comedic effect. I remember a positive experience I had watching a New Kids on the Block performance the other week. (Wait for the explanation. Wait for it.) Now, the New Kids were clumsy and awkward, but what struck me was how often they took off their shirts to show off their ripped bods. (For those of you unfortunate enough to have seen a Twilight film, substitute Taylor Lautner taking his shirt off.) By the fourth time it happened, I was all "Enough, already!", and it occurred to me that this must be what it's like to be a straight woman watching your typical Hollywood action film. "Okay, breasts...can we move on, please?" It was healthy for me to be placed, if only momentarily, in that position. Some people wonder what feminists are so angry about. Having various New Kids' smooth, oiled torsos constantly (and gratuitously) shoved in my face for four minutes, I wondered why they aren't angrier.

Why am I talking about the male gaze? Well, the assumption of straight maleness is so prevalent that even feminists often fall victim to it. For example, when talking about viewing women as sexual objects, the unspoken assumption is often a straight man viewing a woman as a sexual object and evaluating her solely according to this criterion rather than seeing her an actual person, classifying her as either a bitch (not fuckable) or a ho (fuckable). But straight men aren't the only ones who view women as sex objects. For every gay best friend with whom a straight woman can go shopping, exchange fashion tips, and cry about boys, there's a gay man who sees her only as a sex object. The difference is that, in his case, she is a sex object in which he has no interest. So if he makes a film, women are largely absent from it, since they don't enter his world unless they're either connected to a man or barge in, unwelcome, on their own. David DeCoteau is an example of this sort of filmmaker. Based solely on the evidence of The Boondock Saints, I think Troy Duffy is also a gay man who views women entirely as sex objects.

I've already mentioned the continual shirtlessness of the leads, including the jail scene in which water is dripped on them so that their muscled torsos glisten in the moonlight. Smecker is gay, and this is presented matter-of-factly when he answers the phone in bed, with the camera zooming out to reveal a man in bed with him. In another film, it would've been a nice moment of homosexuality being the non-issue it ought to be, but of course, Duffy's inner hack can't leave it at that, so he has to include a joke with Smecker disdainfully calling the guy a fag. But I've known gay men who do this, and it fits with Smecker's character, so it didn't bother me. What I kept waiting for was the scene with Smecker being emasculated or trumped because of his sexuality, but it never came. All of this, and then there's the odd lack of women in the movie overall. But what about when they do appear? Well, let's have a look.

The first woman we see is an offensive bull dyke caricature (is there any other kind?). You know, fat, piercings, short hair, mannish stance and voice--the whole bit. This lovely lady shows contempt for our leads from the beginning, and then when one of them utters the phrase "rule of thumb", she goes on a "feminist" rant about husbands beating wives and then kicks him in the balls. Now, in my time I've talked to a number of feminists, and lesbians, and feminist lesbians, and I've even outright disagreed with them, and I've yet to get a jackboot to the daddy marbles for my trouble, yet Connor (or Murphy, whichever) utters the phrase "rule of thumb" and takes one to the jimmy. Tough town, Boston. The other brother lays out Offensive Bull Dyke Caricature with a haymaker as the "Irish" music swells to a crescendo. Ah, good times.

Okay, let's see....there's the stripper who is onscreen for all of three seconds, during which time she never speaks while the Saints threaten her at gunpoint and then Funny Man gropes her breast while she's unconscious. Why yes, this sexual assault is played for laughs! Oh, and then there's Funny Man's drug-addict girlfriend and her drug-addict galpal that he threatens at gunpoint. Oh, and the one guy's wife we see for maybe five seconds while the Saints threaten her at gunpoint. Oh, and the woman whose back we see for one second before she's executed at gunpoint.

You know, I think there might be some kind of pattern here....

I've gone on for long enough about what is a thoroughly loathsome, hateful, and shoddily made piece of hokum that appeals to the basest instincts of caveman mentality. I haven't even mentioned the scene of Willem Dafoe in drag making out with a guy so as to gain entry to the mob boss's house in a failed attempt to rescue the Saints, and trust me, we're all the better for it.


  1. I really enjoyed most of your writing. I thought you were talking about a comedy. It would have made more sense as a comedy. The world has really changed that you can just find the killer right away without looking for them. and like you said, it's ok to kill bad people. People that the killer decides is bad that is. I mean, why don't we all just say that. They were bad, so I killed them and the law say, ok we see you're point, let's move onto the next killing and see why that one happened. As far as gay men, to me, that's not funny, worth watching or anything I'm interested in. I have never understood why a sex scene is put in a horror movie, or dramas anyway. No one CARES about that part of it....I also have never understand why writers/directors/actors are making a "statement" in the film when their "statement' has nothing to do with the plot of the film

  2. I did not enjoy Kill Bill at all. Couldn't put a finger to the exact reasons until we talked about it.

    "Guy Ritchie, before he went insane and married Madonna (not necessarily in that order), was one of these."

    Biggest LOL moment of the day!

  3. So glad you wrote this so I don't have to. I agree with everything you said. All I'll add is I was initially intrigued as I thought the movie was going to ask some spiritural/socio-religious questions, but then I realized the whole hearing from god thing was just an excuse to gleefully shoot up a bunch of baddies. I hate this movie.

    1. I could've written twice as much hate, if anybody could stand to read it all, and this is probably the thing I hated most that I didn't mention: appropriating religious imagery in a pretentious attempt to mix a little genuine meaning into your artistic bankruptcy. (Yes I'm looking at you, Book of Eli.)

    2. This could have been a really interesting film had its filmmakers had some intellectual curiosity, and had explored WHY two Irish-American losers would go vigilante, and asked some hard questions about what they were really thinking (and maybe what thoughts they might be suppressing). Explore the suppressed true motivations hidden under their supposed divine mandate. Rather than making them cult heroes, pit them against society and make it a study on sociopathy. Make the Willem Dafoe character a sympathetic, understanding figure...who wants to put them behind bars, where they belong.

      Anyway, good work dude, gonna start following your blog!