Call writer-director Troy Duffy the indie movie Icarus.
The Boston-born former bar bouncer went from obscurity to the highest Hollywood heights almost overnight. In 1997, he sold his first script, "The Boondock Saints," to Miramax in a widely publicized multimillion dollar deal with the studio's then co-chief Harvey Weinstein famously offering to throw in the bar at which Duffy worked to sweeten the deal for the writer-director's vigilante shoot-'em-up. And after the trade papers anointed Duffy "Hollywood's newest wunderkind," the filmmaker was off: cudgeling his friends, family and the other members of his rock band the Brood with his suddenly outsize ego.
More crucially, though, Duffy's high-and-mightiness fell out of favor with Miramax's top brass, who ultimately put the project into turnaround. "Saints" became tainted goods in the industry's eyes, although it was eventually made on the cheap, landing in only five theaters for two weeks and grossing a paltry $30,000. The whole process is painfully captured by the 2000 documentary "Overnight," which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and presents Duffy's career demise as a cautionary tale about the moviemaking fast-lane.
Not exactly the stuff on which film franchises are built -- or so it would seem. And yet, in spite of "Boondock Saints' " record as a box-office non-starter, despite its wholesale lack of Q recognition factor outside a core group of ardent fanboys, Friday marks the arrival in theaters of Duffy's return to form: "The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day."
" 'Boondock' was a cult success," Duffy, 38, explained between bites of a super-melt and sips of Guinness in a mid-Wilshire district Irish pub. "The word 'cult' cuts both ways. The reason people thought 'Boondock' hadn't done well is because it was out there doing its thing quietly. There was no fanfare. But as soon as it touched fans, it did it on its own. Whoever you talk to, you get the same story: 'My buddy strapped me to a chair and said, "You're watching this movie." Two hours later, you got another 'Boondock' fan."
Focused on two Irish American brothers (Norman Reedus and Sean Patrick Flanery) who go on a highly stylized murder spree, taking out mobsters and underworld kingpins after receiving a message from God to clean up crime in Boston, "Boondock Saints" proved a hard sell upon its 2000 domestic release. The Columbine High School massacre was still fresh in the national consciousness, having occurred only a year earlier. And within the industry, Miramax's public kiss-off of the film was the equivalent to a scarlet letter. Worse, Duffy became unemployable in Hollywood; he describes that time as "the downward spiral into depression."
But according to the movie's producers, "Saints" found its legs overseas, where the film received theatrical distribution and then made its major connection with fans on DVD. (Precise international sales figures could not be verified.)
"In the U.S. on home video, it did well past $50 million," said "Saints" producer Chris Brinker. "In Canada, it did another $10 million. In Japan, it was wildly successful. And it did great in South Africa, Korea, Germany and Italy. You're above $100 million gross just on DVD worldwide. It's really nuts."
Not that Brinker, Duffy or any of the actors in "Saints," such as Willem Dafoe, who had signed deals for back-end profit participation saw any money. The movie's distributor, Franchise Pictures, went bankrupt in 2004 after losing a $121-million fraud lawsuit that involved inflating the budgets of some of its films in order to get more funds from investors. Further court proceedings with Franchise mired Duffy's chances of getting a sequel off the ground until 2007 when he settled with several parties involved with the company for an undisclosed amount. All the while, the filmmaker stayed afloat selling movie merchandise on the website boondocksaints.com.
Shaking off the career missteps and industry infamy, Duffy moved forward full bore on the sequel -- which finds the brothers returning to the U.S. after a decade on the lam when a criminal conspiracy attempts to frame them for the murder of a priest; more Tarantino-esque ultra-violence, chain smoking and curse words ensue. Duffy had no trouble re-enlisting almost all the first film's principal cast members and secured $8 million for the shoot. Sony Pictures and Apparition films stepped in to distribute "Saints II," which was raucously received by fans at a jam-packed panel discussion at San Diego's Comic-Con this summer.
"It's the blue-collar 'Twilight,' " said Apparition's CEO Bob Berney, name-checking the juggernaut teen vampire romance. "It's like a Springsteen crowd that comes to this movie."
For his part, Duffy cops to having learned certain hard lessons from his first go-'round in Hollywood.
"From doing the first one to the second one, I realize that there's politics in Hollywood to be played," he said. "I always figured, [forget] it, I'll just make a great movie and it'll all come out in the wash. Every bridge I burned will be resurrected. Everyone I snubbed will come back and go, 'Troy, you were right.' But it doesn't work out that way in this town."