Thursday, December 30, 2004

AMBITIOUS MINDS

Movie: Overnight

Posted on Thu, Dec 30, 2004 at 4:00 AM

***1/2

Our Rating: 3.50

To a media junkie of the early 21st century, nothing's as satisfying as witnessing the comeuppance of a wunderkind who acts as if instant gratification is his just due. Though that quasi-sadistic impulse fits the textbook definition of another German term, schadenfreude, it's a trait we seem to have inherited more directly from the British, who have a long, proud history of putting their cultural breakout stars on a pedestal in time to tighten the noose and kick the chair away.

Any reservations you may have about the righteousness of such a predilection will vanish upon contact with Troy Duffy, the generally contemptible star of the rise-and-fall documentary Overnight. Captured on camera as his career as an indie writer/director appeared to be taking off like a rocket, Duffy suffered through three long years of busted deals, broken promises and collapsing relationships – much of which, the movie suggests, he courted through his own swaggering hubris and boorish attempts at intimidation. What we have here is Startup.com with a stronger belief in karma.

Duffy's initial ego overload is understandable, if not excusable. While working as a bartender in a humble West Hollywood tavern, the Boston-bred writer sold his feature-film script, The Boondock Saints, to Miramax for a whopping $300,000. Sweetening the victory, Miramax head honcho Harvey Weinstein agreed to let Duffy direct the picture; at the same time, Duffy's rock band, The Brood, was tapped to compose and perform the score as part of a lucrative, multi-album deal with a major record label. Weinstein even offered to buy the tavern for Duffy, cementing the young auteur's story as the stuff of broadsheet legend.

It's no spoiler to reveal that The Boondock Saints' path to the screen wasn't nearly the cakewalk it promised to be. Think back: Do you remember seeing the movie in a theater? As the all-observing Overnight demonstrates, the project was unexpectedly put into turnaround, exacerbating Duffy's latent paranoia and all-consuming desire to be somebody – preferably at the expense of enemies both real and imagined. But even when times were good, the documentary suggests, his workdays were less than entirely productive, having consisted largely of throwing boozy bashes and issuing grand pronouncements of his historic importance to anyone who would listen.

As his fortune cookie began to crumble, Duffy added the charming habits of viciously berating his agents over the phone and trying to screw his friends and collaborators out of monies owed – a courtesy he's seen extending to Overnight's directors, Mark Brian Smith and Tony Montana. You have to imagine that those two didn't feel any compelling need to make Duffy come off well in the editing room. As portrayed here, he makes Vincent Gallo look like Marianne Williamson.

The cautionary portrait that Smith and Montana paint isn't a genuine tragedy; we don't know enough about Duffy's mental state before selling the script to qualify as such. At one point, Duffy's brother, Taylor – who played lead guitar in The Brood – assures him that "You have changed, big time." But at other junctures, the film implies that the illusion of success merely worsened a megalomania Duffy had harbored all along. Its biographical underpinnings thus relegated to the shadows, Overnight works best as a simple illustration of a neo-Hollywood axiom: You only get to act like Harvey Weinstein after you've become Harvey Weinstein.

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