The very existence of The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day is something of a cinematic miracle, and the fact that it received a theatrical release was yet more improbable. For those unacquainted with the history of this franchise, the making of The Boondock Saints was such a colossal disaster that it opened in only five theaters. In fact, the gargantuan ego of writer-director Troy Duffy, a supposed wunderkind who got a big deal from Harvey Weinstein, prompted Duffy's former friends to make a lacerating documentary (Overnight) about how his attitude poisoned the whole production -- not to mention any and all future career prospects. Or so it seemed at the time. But when The Boondock Saints gained a cult following on DVD -- perhaps due to a morbid curiosity fueled by Overnight -- a sequel was greenlit. And the second time out, Duffy's war wounds seem to have granted him the wisdom to make the film he probably intended to make in the first place. The action picks up eight years after the events of The Boondock Saints, which culminated in Irish brothers Connor (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Murphy MacManus (Norman Reedus) executing a high-profile mob boss in a Boston courtroom, and then disappearing. It turns out they disappeared to Ireland, where the vigilantes -- worshipped as heroes by the public -- have grown their hair long while living a simple country life with their father (Billy Connolly), who participated in the courtroom assassination. But copycats back in the States have tried to frame the killing of a Catholic priest on the so-called Saints, imitating their "two in the back of the head" execution method and their signature "pennies over the eyelids" post-killing ritual. Returning to track down the perpetrators (and perhaps recite more scripture to impending victims), the brothers discover that the spawn of the dead mob boss (Judd Nelson) is trying to draw them out to even the score. An FBI profiler (Julie Benz) joins the hunt, along with the three Boston detectives who tracked them eight years ago, and before long, a boatload of criminals start getting what's coming to them. The amazing thing about The Boondock Saints II is that it works despite not being substantially different from The Boondock Saints in either style or content. Miroslaw Baszak's cinematography is a clear improvement over Adam Kane's work in the original, but Duffy himself hasn't kowtowed to his critics by reinventing his own interests. He still likes staging over-the-top, John Woo-style gun battles, and pretty much the whole cast is back -- including one actor whose character died in the original, but returns here in a couple of dream sequences. Benz's FBI agent carries out the same kind of crime-scene reenactments that Willem Dafoe did in the first film, which include visualizing what happened, with her walking through the reenactment. Blaring rock music and plenty of slow-mo also make a repeat appearance. The one big change is that Duffy seems to have a sense of humor this time around. While The Boondock Saints was stultified by Duffy's self-importance, not to mention some terrible technique, the sequel plays almost like a straight comedy for its first hour, something to laugh with rather than laugh at. The inside jokiness that turns most sequels into self-parody actually works in favor of Boondock Saints II, as it lets the performers have fun with the material rather than being shackled by it. Even Duffy's writing -- while still hackneyed at times -- seems unburdened by not trying so hard to be cool. He appears to have learned the ironic truth that some form of self-parody is the only way for him to be taken seriously. And those performers? Duffy has classed up the sequel with some strong additions to the cast. Clifton Collins Jr. gets laughs as the brothers' requisite third wheel/comic relief, Peter Fonda does an excellent Italian accent as the shadowy figure who propels much of the action, and Judd Nelson has fun as the apoplectic crime boss. Benz's FBI profiler could have easily been a scenery chewer, but she gives a sexy allure to the character, winking at the audience a few times herself. The supplemental cast even seems capable of loosening up Flanery and Reedus, who still don't have distinct personalities, but at least are no longer just window dressing in Duffy's operatic shoot-outs. Their elaborate kills were one of the things that made The Boondock Saints seem so ridiculous, but here, Duffy wrings comedy out of those logistics, detailing the effort involved, and the mishaps that would invariably ensue. This approach helps the brothers seem more real -- at least as real as anything can seem in a film like this. The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day doesn't hold up to the least scrutiny in terms of its story. And there are certainly reminders of the old Duffy, whose pretensions and wrong-headed ambitions bled through every frame of The Boondock Saints. But anyone drawn to the sequel in the hopes of retaining the moral high ground over the writer-director, or just to indulge in a good session of schadenfreude, will be disappointed. If Troy Duffy ends up having a career after all, The Boondock Saints II will have played a key role in making that possible.