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Why Wasn’t This In Theaters?

January 13th, 2009 · 10 Comments

The Boondock Saints (1999)
Written by Troy Duffy
Directed by Troy Duffy
Produced by Brood Syndicate/ Chris Brinker Productions/ Fried Films/ The Lloyd Segan Company/ Franchise Pictures
Running time: 110 minutes

Boondock Saints 1999 poster Boondock Saints DVD

After whipping a trio of Russian mobsters in a pub brawl, Irish Catholic twins Connor McManus (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Murphy McManus (Norman Reedus) are paid a visit by their pissed off foes. Mopping up the bodies of the Russians afterward, Boston police are aided by outrageous FBI agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe), who theorizes the deaths were personal; one of them had a toilet bowl dropped on him. The McManus boys – fluent in seven languages and plying their intelligence as meat packers – turn themselves in and plead self-defense. But after receiving a vision from God to destroy all that is evil so that good may flourish, they embark on a vigilante murder spree against the Boston underworld. The boondock saints have so much fun that they let their dense buddy Rocco (David Della Rocco) in on the team. To retaliate, the mob turns to Irish super assassin Il Duce (Billy Connolly).

Production history
After spending childhood in Exeter, New Hampshire amid a large, lower middle class Irish American family, Troy Duffy was accepted into the premed program at Colorado State University. Realizing his dream was rock ‘n roll, he dropped out of school and headed for Los Angeles in 1993. By day, Duffy served coffee in Westwood and by night, flipped burgers at a titty bar. After taking on odd jobs in home repair, Duffy found himself tending bar at a watering hole on Melrose called J. Sloan’s. With his brother Taylor and two buddies he’d put together a band they called The Brood, but Duffy’s primary occupation soon became movies. He recalled, “The straw that broke the camel’s back was Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Sudden Death. All I could think was, ‘I can do better than that.’ ”

Boondock Saints 1999 Norman Reedus David Della Rocco Sean Patrick Flanery

Titled The Boondock Saints, the script Duffy wrote concerned two Irish brothers who embark on a spiritual crusade to cleanse Boston of “evil men”, putting a flamboyant FBI agent on their trail. Duffy recalls, “The idea for the script was just borne out of poverty and frustration. Me and my brother living in Hollywood in this freaking crackhouse, apartment vandalized and his truck broken into, and just living in shit. Getting frustrated and wondering why no one ever does anything about this, and the police just have no real control over it. We had that fantasy. You know who broke into your apartment, and you see that guy in the halls, and you just want to take a baseball bat to his head, but something stops you. I think we had that question in our heads of, ‘What if something didn’t?’”

A friend named Chris Binder who’d gotten a job as an assistant at New Line Cinema made sure The Boondock Saints was passed up the food chain. The heat around Duffy and his writing sample began to build; producer Robert Fried dropped by Sloan’s to meet him. In February 1997, the William Morris Agency took Duffy on as a client. Within a month, they’d inked a $500,000 deal for Duffy to write two original screenplays for Paramount Pictures. That got the attention of Harvey Weinstein, chairman of Miramax Films. Two weeks after the Paramount deal – while in town for the Academy Awards – Weinstein put in an appearance at Duffy’s workplace. Weinstein stated, “I loved the script that he wrote. Then he told me all the ideas for other films that he had, and I said, ‘A guy who thinks like this won’t be around on a one-shot deal.’ The proof is in the words. I read a lot of scripts that get near Boondock Saints but that don’t close the deal. They’re imitations. They’re mechanical. These characters come from Troy Duffy’s soul.”

Boondock Saints 1999 Norman Reedus Sean Patrick Flanery

In a deal celebrated in newspapers around the globe, Weinstein purchased The Boondock Saints for the following terms: $300,000 for Duffy’s script, $150,000 for Duffy to make his directorial debut. The film would carry a budget of $15 million. Duffy’s band The Brood would produce the music. Duffy would retain casting approval and final cut over the film. Last but not least, Weinstein agreed to buy J. Sloan’s outright and split ownership of the bar with his new discovery. No sooner than Duffy was throwing a backyard barbecue to celebrate, Mark Wahlberg dropped by to discuss starring in the movie. Jake Busey, Jerry O’Connell, Billy Zane, Matthew Modine, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeff Goldblum and Emilio Estevez were among the actors who showed up at Sloan’s to hold court with Duffy.

Over at Miramax, it was hoped The Boondock Saints would follow the blueprint established by Pulp Fiction and followed by Cop Land: edgy, character driven crime dramas with roles so rich that name actors would waive their salaries for the chance to participate. Duffy had written the nutty FBI agent with Jim Carrey in mind. When the superstar comic passed, Miramax suggested Bill Murray, Mike Myers or Sylvester Stallone. Duffy countered with Patrick Swayze. When the studio proposed making an offer to Brad Pitt to play one of the title characters, Duffy shot that idea down too, reportedly telling friends he didn’t think much of Pitt’s Irish accent in The Devil’s Own. Duffy rejected Matt Damon for not being gritty enough. In private, he called Keanu Reeves a “punk” and Ethan Hawke “a talentless fool.”

Boondock Saints 1999 Willem Dafoe

Ewan McGregor was interested enough in The Boondock Saints to take a meeting with Duffy. Tony Montana – a co-manager of The Brood, who was shooting a documentary about the Troy Duffy phenomenon – remembered, “Troy thought he could go out, meet with Ewan and get drunk, have a Scottish-Irish love affair, as he called it, and sign him lickety-split. That’s what he said. So he went to New York, and when he came back, things got very quiet. It turned out that they had a bad meeting, got into an argument over the death penalty, and Ewan wasn’t interested. And at that time, Ewan was really one of Miramax’s rising stars.” Unable to lock a cast, Duffy found it harder to get Weinstein on the phone. In November 1997, the studio notified Duffy’s agents that they would not be producing The Boondock Saints.

Duffy recalls, “I told them I’ll jibe with them on every other domain. If you want to cut my budget, if you want to film half of it in Toronto and half in Boston, I’ll jibe with you everywhere except when it comes to casting. So they said, ‘Well, Troy, we just can’t deal with that.’ ” Duffy was permitted to keep his writing fee, but potential buyers were on the hook to reimburse Miramax $700,000 for development costs, plus the $150,000 they’d promised for Duffy to direct. Producer Robert Fried mused, “Troy was very raw and outspoken, and it hurt him. When actors met with him, he didn’t always sound like a polished filmmaker, and it put some people off. But that’s part of what makes such an original. He’s not fake – he’s the real thing.”

Boondock Saints 1999 Norman Reedus Sean Patrick Flanery

Riding to the rescue was Elie Samaha, a former nightclub owner whose Franchise Pictures had carved out a niche bankrolling the pet projects of major stars – Bruce Willis (The Whole Nine Yards), John Travolta (Battlefield Earth), Kevin Costner (3000 Miles To Graceland) – that no one was else wanted to finance. After attaching Sean Patrick Flanery and Jon Bon Jovi to the title roles, Duffy met with Willem Dafoe in April 1998 at the actor’s experimental theater company in New York. As soon as Dafoe signed on to play the FBI agent and Franchise had a name actor they could use to sell the picture, The Boondock Saints commenced shooting August 1998 in Toronto on a budget of $6 million (Norman Reedus became available and was cast in Bon Jovi’s place.)

The München Fantasy Filmfest in Germany was where The Boondock Saints held its world premiere August 1999. It also played theaters in Denmark before a limited release January 2000 at five theaters in the United States. During its three-week run, The Boondock Saints grossed $30,471. But in what may have been the first viral marketing outbreak in Hollywood history, many who discovered the movie on DVD told a friend, who told another friend, who told more friends. Ultimately, more than 430,000 units were sold. The official website boasts a fan section (whose devout members refer to themselves as The Flock) and a store, which sells merchandise from Boondock Saints shot glasses to rosary beads. The DVD grew popular enough for Duffy to secure financing for Boondock Saints II: All Saint’s Day, which commenced shooting October 2008 in Toronto. Peter Fonda, Judd Nelson and Julie Benz join Sean Patrick Flanery, Norman Reedus and Billy Connolly in the sequel.

Boondock Saints 1999 Norman Reedus Billy Connolly Sean Patrick Flanery

At “The Hunt for the Worst Movie of All Time: Boondock Saints on videogum, viewers submitted their opinions. H.F.G.: ”My ex-boyfriend loved this movie and tried to get me to watch it. I got half-way through this movie before I just looked at him and said ‘If you wanted to break-up with me, you should have said so.’” jess: “It is poorly made, poorly acted, poorly written, non-sensical, and stupid. I love violent movies AND stupid movies, for that matter. But Boondock Saints definitely represents one of those weird cultural phenomenon moments for me when everyone is saying, ‘You’re going to DIE this movie is so awesome.’ And then, it’s clearly not awesome. Not at all.” Manvnature: “I hate this movie. I hate the people who made it. I hate the cameras that were used to shoot it. I used to love Willem Dafoe. Then I saw this movie. I try not to judge people too much for their personal artistic taste, but I definitely use this film as a litmus test. If you like it, our paths shant cross again.”

Talking Boondock Saints in an interview with, Duffy declared, “Yes, it has become a ‘cult’ film. Do you know what that is? It’s simple. A cult flick is a film that Hollywood missed. They made a mistake, plain and simple. After people’s love of the film is expressed the number one comment I hear is, ‘Why wasn’t this in theaters?’ I had my industry screenings a few weeks after Columbine occurred, when the president was forming judiciary committees against violent film. Studios were pulling back and Boondocks was black listed. If anybody had the nuts, we could have seen exactly what this movie could have done in theaters. But, fuck it. I have received mail from fans all over the world. The raw fact is, Boondocks hit the public and they loved it … I am sure in my heart that what happened here happened the way it was supposed to. I love this film. I am proud of this film.”

Boondock Saints 1999 Willem Dafoe

If you let it slip that you’ve never actually seen The Boondock Saints and somebody gets in our face to demand that you watch it, these are the steps to follow: 1) Change the subject by asking them how they’re doing in school, 2) Remind them not to drink and drive, 3) Thank them for their recommendation, 4) Do not see the movie. The Boondock Saints is a gangsta rap demo recorded on film, a bro revenge fantasy that attempts to mix the symbolism of The Deer Hunter with the bullet worship of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. The result is feature length masturbation with an admittedly intriguing hook, but wretched execution all the way down the line, from writing to casting to editing. It’s so unwatchable you’ll want to snap the DVD in half and send Guy Ritchie a note on Facebook, apologizing for anything bad you ever said about his movies.

Troy Duffy should be congratulated for getting The Boondock Saints made and mesmerizing the crowd the movie seems designed for: 15 to 22 year old bros who always wanted to hang a neon beer sign in their room. For the sober moviegoer, there’s nothing to recommend about the film at all. Unable or unwilling to involve us in anything dramatically, Duffy tries to compensate by going wildly over the top and making a cheeseball action farce: Ron Jeremy has a cameo, a cat is shot, Willem Dafoe performs in drag. If Duffy had followed the example of Jon Favreau, channeling his Hollywood frustrations into a script about his barstool buddies wondering whether they should get a life, it might not have been as funny as Swingers, but at least it would have been honest. The Boondock Saints is so high on its own supply that the sequel may be the only picture with any chance of topping it as the worst ever made.

© Joe Valdez

Boondock Saints 1999 Scott Griffith

“Hollywood’s Suddenly Drunk on a Bartender’s Idea”. Sharon Waxman, the Washington Post. April 14, 1997

“The Two Faces of Hollywood”. Sharon Waxman, the Washington Post. April 10, 1998

“Back Behind the Bar”. Patrick Goldstein, the Los Angeles Times. April 13, 1998

“Boondock Saints”. Amy Finch, the Boston Phoenix. November 2, 1998

Overnight (2003), directed by Brian Mark Smith & Tony Montana

Tags: Brother/brother relationship · Cult favorite · Dreams and visions · Drunk scene · Forensic evidence · Hitman · Interrogation · Shootout

10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Patrick // Jan 13, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    You make this sound bad enough to almost be fun to watch. What a discrepancy in ratings between Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB. I went to both after reading your review. 7.8 at IMDB, but a lousy 18 percent at Rotten Tomatoes. I suppose the IMDB rating is composed of fans (more so I mean than usual, since it sounds as though people had to seek this thing out on DVD, versus stumbling on it at a theater), the RT rating is composed of impartial critics. Michael Blowhard did a nice writeup on a documentary about Duffy, link below if anyone cares to read it.

  • 2 Daniel Newby // Jan 14, 2009 at 2:00 am

    This strikes me as one of those movies that folks project their expectations onto. It’s a crime movie, so there must be good versus evil, wrestling with personal demons, dramatic revelations, human frailties, character development, etc. They go subconsciously looking for things and, not finding them, are dismayed and confused.

    Well, of course. The Boondock Saints is slapstick comedy. It is the Three Stooges with amphetamines and bullets. That’s the POINT.

    Young men like it precisely because it is NOT the standard puerile revenge fantasy they got with mother’s milk: John Rambo stalking ponderously through the woods for Justice and the True American Way, a dead cop’s partner heating to a blazing fury during the cop funeral with Amazing Grace playing on the bagpipes, and all the other tired hardboiled tropes.

    If a Sylvester Stallone character were chained to a toilet while his brother was dragged outside by the mob, his brother would HAVE to die, Stallone would HAVE to listen to his dying screams in anguish (you can see the facial expression he would HAVE to wear in your mind’s eye), and there would HAVE to be a linear build up to a climactic revenge with justice and apple pie for all. Hollywood plot #14, variation #3, Italian gambit. In The Boondock Saints, he rips the toilet out of the floor, leaps six stories to the ground (and survives!), and a bad guy gets beaten to death with the toilet tank lid. For young, male, totally jaded hardboiled fan, the sheer creativity and energy of the scene is reason to cheer.

    Most of the movie is like that. Time and again they run a standard Hollywood set-up, then deliver an outrageous punchline. Any idiot director can have a standard-issue ex special forces assassin. The Saints unveils granddad wearing a suit of guns. Any old drama can have a drunken mess sheepishly explained to She Who Must Be Obeyed. The Saints gives us an ineptly patched gory hole in the wall, and a girlfriend who is told her cat was killed to “bring closure to our relationship”.

    Yes, it is low-brow, but to a crime movie fan it is also a breath of fresh air. Yes, the directing could have been better, but virtually all conventional directors would have utterly ruined it by taking the ostensible plot seriously.

    I’d like to see what you think about Dude, Where’s My Car, another movie where the plot is just an excuse for wild and titillating things to happen to the protagonists.

  • 3 Chuck // Jan 14, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    Joe, I saw that you were dealing with The Boondock Saints and I thought “If he likes this I will politely pretend as if I haven’t read”. This is an awful, awful, awful movie.

  • 4 Production Coordinator // Jan 16, 2009 at 10:22 am

    A good post, An interesting review on movie “The Boondock Saints”

    Thanks for posting.

  • 5 AR // Jan 19, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    Well…I have a friend who got me to watch this, and we’re still talking, so I don’t think it’s the worst ever.
    I like Dafoe in it, actually. The role is terrible, completely over the top and silly, but gosh! he looks like he’s having a blast. I couldn’t make heads or tails of the movie otherwise. It has many viscerally enjoyable scenes, but the story is an utter mess.

  • 6 Christian // Jan 21, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    You can’t talk about this film and not at least recommend watching OVERNIGHT — the documentary that came from his friends during the madness. It is outrageously entertaining and awful to watch this guy literally piss his career away with sheer force of ego will. An amazing Hollywood cautionary.

    Yes, OVERNIGHT is not a technical triumph at all, but it is certainly the raw and real Troy Duffy. Just watching him brag about how great he is to his silent family…priceless and sad.

  • 7 Joe Valdez // Jan 21, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    Patrick: Beware what happened to the Greeks who couldn’t turn away from Medusa’s gaze. As far as Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB, I get why you checked out the scores there, but I’m skeptical about those sites too. I would rather read criticism from people whose taste I respect, even if it’s only one sentence. Metacritic is a really good barometer for what the non-lunatic group reaction is on movies, TV shows, CDs or video games. Thanks for visiting and for commenting!

    Daniel: If you could make a quality film by simply ending every other scene in the most ridiculous way possible, Boondock Saints would be one of the greatest movies ever made. Throwing a Molatov cocktail through the window of Hollywood is fun in theory, but for me, Boondock Saints is as visionary as some drunken buffoon mooning a train. The craftsmanship involved is roughly on the same level, while the entertainment value for the passengers is similar as well.

    Chuck: One of the nearest and dearest people in the world highly recommended Boondock Saints to me. She was only 18 at the time and I’d be curious to know whether this movie holds up as a movie, or just as a college drinking game. If there are grown folk out there who think this movie is anything other than a retard sandwich, I’d love to meet them. Or, maybe not.

    Kate: Thanks for visiting and for complimenting the article. I suspect if you worked on this movie in any production coordinating capacity, you would have offered a spirited defense of it. Let me know if I’m off base here.

    Amanda: Now I’m curious to know which movie or movies you consider the worst ever. Knowing what I do about your taste, I suspect Sandra Bullock might appear in 3 out of 5. I could be wrong. Thanks as always for sharing your erudite thoughts.

    Christian: I gave Overnight a shout-out in my sources section, but I wasn’t impressed with the documentary, to be honest with you. It was kind of low class; you could tell Duffy’s buds were just shooting a home movie. Not a very comprehensive study of much. And instead of pissing his career away, Boondock ended up a moneymaker on DVD and now Duffy is in post on the sequel. I wish he had faded into oblivion, but this appears not to be the case. Maybe he’ll team up with Uwe Boll and shoot a Boondock brothers movie in Prague.

  • 8 T // Jul 28, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    You are a pretentious ass.

    Boondock Saints is an amazing action film. Probably the best action film I have ever seen.

  • 9 Joe Valdez // Jul 28, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    T: If you’ve seen Bridge on the River Kwai, Raiders of the Lost Ark, First Blood, The Road Warrior, Aliens, The Hunt For Red October and The Matrix and actually think that The Boondock Saints is the best action film you’ve ever seen, then yeah, one of us has a tail and eats carrots and I don’t think it’s me. If you haven’t seen the flicks I mentioned, I strongly recommend them. Thanks for commenting!

  • 10 Joe izzo // May 16, 2015 at 11:35 pm

    Everyone is writing the reviews and takes on the movie as if it was a serious movie!
    For crying out loud, it’s ‘Rambo does Animal House’!
    The cast had to be selectively picked otherwise it’d be great actors making a ridiculous movie. Like this, we have a fun movie loaded with one liners and hilariously unreal out takes. Name a guy movie that was great that DIDN’T have that!
    If you try to take it serious, you won’t like it. Turn off the brain and enjoy the entertainment.

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