The 'Saints' march back

A chastened Troy Duffy makes this 'Boondock' a fun ride, not an ego trip

Norman Reedus, Billy Connolly, Troy Duffy, and Sean Patrick Flanery at the Black Rose Pub From left: Norman Reedus, Billy Connolly, Troy Duffy, and Sean Patrick Flanery at the Black Rose Pub last week while promoting "The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day." The film, written and directed by Duffy, hits theaters Friday. (David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)
By Joel Brown
Globe Correspondent / October 25, 2009

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‘I got the job done. I wish I had done it with less carnage,’’ Troy Duffy said of his first experience in moviemaking. “That’s what this time is about - doing a good job with less carnage.’’

His words are kind of ironic from a guy who wrote and directed two Hub-set big-screen shoot-’em-ups that revel in high body counts. But the original “The Boondock Saints’’ was made amid a mortifying show-business massacre largely of Duffy’s own making.

“The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day,’’ coming out Friday, has the same stars and the same on-screen casualty rate as its predecessor, but even the press kit says Duffy has “learned a lot about dealing with people and avoiding turmoil.’’

“There’s an etiquette and a politics in this business, and I didn’t play either one the first time around,’’ Duffy said last week on a Boston visit. “I should have. I know how to do that now.’’

Both films were shot primarily in Toronto and star Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus as brothers Connor and Murphy MacManus, blue-collar Catholic lads from Southie turned into avenging angels by circumstance. They clean up the town while clad in navy pea coats, shades, and rosaries, brandishing giant handguns. Comedian Billy Connolly appears as a mysterious killer whose family ties to the brothers are the focus of the sequel.

With his Sox cap, tattoos, and beard, Duffy looks like Kevin Youkilis’ ne’er-do-well brother. But the actors say the legend of his bad behavior has no relationship to what they experienced on the set. “Everyone who was in the first one is in the second one. How much more proof do you need that it was bollocks?’’ said Connolly.

But then, he hasn’t seen the documentary.

Duffy’s Hollywood fairy tale begins in the late 1990s, when he was tending bar at a West Hollywood pub while playing in a struggling rock band. Studios were trying to recapture the success of Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,’’ and the bull market in Southie crime stories was just beginning.

Miramax mogul Harvey Weinstein bought a screenplay Duffy wrote, hired the novice to direct it himself, and even said he’d buy Duffy the bar. Duffy grew up in Amesbury and southern New Hampshire, but in the media he became the lucky “bouncer from Boston’’ whose gritty tale of two Irish brothers from Southie exterminating local mobsters seemed like a sure hit. He scored a record deal for the band, too.

The second act wasn’t pretty. Duffy’s fast-growing ego and combative style alienated everyone from Weinstein to his own friends and family. Miramax dropped the movie, the record deal fell apart, and minor players stepped in to take advantage. “Boondock Saints’’ got made, but for less than half the original $15 million budget, and it opened in only five theaters in 2000, for a box office total of just over $30,000. The band’s album sank more or less without a trace.

During all of this, two members of Duffy’s hard-drinking posse were filming a documentary. They were ex-friends by the time the film, “Overnight,’’ came out in 2004.

“Overnight’’ makes Duffy look like the biggest expletive in Hollywood. He screams at business partners on the phone, mocks the talents of a few Hollywood big names, and generally displays a vastly overinflated ego.

Duffy said he was responsible for 90 percent of his troubles, but he casts his obnoxious behavior as “passion’’ and said he was mostly playing hardball the way he thought it was played in Hollywood.

“I was a newbie in the business, and I got a movie deal and a record deal and I lost them both,’’ he said. “But I resurrected them both with new companies, and we made the movie and the record on our own terms, irrespective of any success those may have garnered. Even with my naivete and my youth, and even with all the problems and all the [expletive] in my wake, I accomplished those things. To me, that’s sort of the important thing.’’

“The Boondock Saints’’ eventually came out on DVD and began to gather an audience. None of the profits came to Duffy, nor did he have the sequel rights to his own creation. A five-year court fight ensued.

“I found myself broke, busted, and disgusted, living in a [expletive] $600-a-month studio apartment with my wife and two dogs,’’ he said. “Yeah, those can be moments that challenge the soul, but you’re either going to get gut-punched and curl up in the corner and give up, or you’re going to find a way to pull yourself back up and move forward,’’ he said.

Eventually he set up a website to sell merchandise to the growing “Boondock Saints’’ Internet fan base, and that paid the bills. Discovery in the court cases revealed “Boondock Saints’’ DVD sales were racking up tens of millions. (Most reports say around $50 million; Duffy mentions $100 million worldwide.) Duffy said his lawyers won’t let him talk about the “undisclosed settlements’’ that resulted but his smile suggests a happy ending.

Quickly a sequel was greenlighted, and filming on “All Saints Day’’ began.

The sequel is a true Internet-era project. There were webcasts from the set and Q&A’s with the actors. Duffy has been on a “Boondock Saints’’ college tour. And a number of fans were chosen online to come to Toronto to be extras in a big scene set in a Catholic church.

While the first movie saw a week of shooting in Boston, only a couple of brief scenes in the sequel were filmed here - ones with Duffy’s brother-in-law, WHDH (Channel 7) sports director Joe Amorosino playing a reporter. But the actors seem glad to have had their Toronto reunion after eight years.

“It was a little déjà vu the first time, putting on the pea coats,’’ said Reedus. “When you start shooting people, you’re like, oh yeah!’’

“We didn’t skip a beat,’’ added Flanery. “Everyone says that, but this really was just like a boys’ club, all of us hanging out, saying politically incorrect jokes and being crass, going out afterward. It just really was a good time.’’

While there was no substantial female part in the first movie, in the sequel Julie Benz (“Dexter’’) takes over from Willem Dafoe as the FBI agent assigned to the “Boondock Saints’’ case.

No worries: there is no icky romance.

“That is sacred ground for ‘Boondock’ fans - no love interest,’’ said Duffy. “That’s the one rule I don’t break. . . . But a good curveball to throw at the fan base is a female lead, because the first thing the fan base thinks is, oh God, he’s breaking rule number one! Now when they see that it’s not, hopefully they’ll be in.’’

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