We Drink and We Die and Continue to Drink
The plot of the film is set up like a cover of the Itchy and Scratchy theme song: they drink, they fight, they drink, they drink, they fight. Fight fight fight, drink drink drink. The Connor and Murphy show! And if that's your cuppa, enjoy. Connor and Murphy MacManus (Sean Patrick Flannery and Norman Reedus, respectively) fled to Ireland with their master assassin da (Billy Connolly) after executing mob boss Yakavetta at the end of the first film. However, back in dear ol' Boston, a hitman whacks a priest and tries to frame it on the Saints with the hope it'll draw them out of hiding. Which works. So the two shave their Jesus beards, strap on their Celtic crucifixes and double silenced pistols, and go home. From there, everything progresses through a broad series of video game-like plotting. Cut scene with some jokery, and then killing up a bunch of bad guys, and then more jokery, and then more killing. The jokes aren't particularly funny this time, and the killings aren't as spectacular. You'd be hard pressed to top the sheer balls-out joy of leaping off a balcony five stories up to smash a bad guy over the head with a toilet in the first one, so Duffy doesn't even bother. Bad guys are riddled with bullets and then one last guy gets set down while the Saints intone their prayer and cap them in the dome. The Saints have been elevated to a superhero status, so it doesn't matter what costumes or ethnicities the bad guys have in this level. They're going to fall under a hail of justice from the twin pistols of the duel brothers.
Willem Dafoe, my favorite part of the first film, has been swapped out for Special Agent Eunice Bloom (Julie Benz), who starts off the hamfoolery by doing Silence of the Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. While the characters both get to do hit reenactments in full costume with soundtracks and such, Dafoe was given a lot more leeway. I don't think Duffy knows how to write for women, which is why he typically doesn't bother to include them in his movies. David Della Rocco dies in the first flick, so they swap out Rocco for Romeo, played by the tremendous Clifton Collins, Jr. Collins' Romeo is little more than a chance for Duffy to auto-edit all his "dago" jokes to "spic" jokes, but Collins is gleefully amped in the part. He's able to vault all his one-note dialogue into something glorious.
Duffy brought back as much of the cast as was possible. Assisting the Saints are the same three dumpy cops who helped them in the first: Greenly (Bob Marley), Duffy (Brian Mahoney), and Dolly (David Ferry). Since Smecker isn't there to order him to get coffee and bagels, Greenly is reduced to making cock-throbbing jokes at Bloom. Doc the bartender (Gerard Parkes) is there to make two or three Tourette's slurs, forever smearing the memory of "Fraggle Rock." Of course, we've got Il Duce doing his six-gun salute. But beyond that, Duffy wrote scenes for Rocco so that David Della Rocco could come back for the sequel. The downside is they're terrible scenes, heavy handed with the kind of mannish crotch-rants about feelings and red meat and John Wayne that Denis Leary already spewed on No Cure for Cancer. Yet, if you're the kind of guy who puts as much stock in the novelty of the Saints execution song as you do with Ezekiel 25:17, then you'll be stoked.
Duffy got some pretty stellar cameos from some awesome character actors for his new baddies (including one from Robb Wells -- Ricky from the incredible Canadian series "Trailer Park Boys" -- and another that was so shocking I have no idea how he managed to keep a lid on it). It's just a damn shame he decided to go The Whole Ten Yards when giving his pros their characters. Judd Nelson plays Concenzio Yakavetta, seeking revenge for the death of his father. Nobody bothered to tell Nelson whether he was supposed to be an Italian from North End or Brooklyn, so he kind of wavers with his accent. It doesn't matter, really, because his job is to yell until the Saints show up to kill him. Peter Fonda stars as The Roman, in what should be a classy kind of role, but really suffers from the fact Duffy made Fonda into the Godfather from the Homer the Clown episode of "The Simpsons." He's-a an eth-a-nic stereotype, but its-a okay, he know, he know. Both parts would have been better if they didn't just get chaffed off like level bosses in a particularly decent video game. There's so little depth other than "that's the next guy the Saints will be gunning for."
Then again, what more do we expect? Duffy didn't learn humility, but he certainly learned what his niche audience wants. And he delivers like Dominos. It's not nearly as sharp as the first film -- aside from the backstory of Il Duce -- and the jokes are much flatter. It's the subtle difference between Die Hard and Die Harder. The movie twists and turns, mostly trying to unravel the threads of who's getting vengeance on whom -- and there's not a lot of surprise or thought behind it. If you think gay jokes and racial cracks are all in good sport and you like it when guys in suits get shot with all the aplomb of the old Goldfinger game on Nintendo 64, then sign up because that's what you're getting. Plus, there's definitely going to be a third movie. Let's just hope Duffy gets it done before another ten years pass. Otherwise, Flannery's face is going to implode and Norman Reedus is gonna break a goddamn hip.
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