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Flipping the Script

When he was heralded as the latest Miramax wunderkind in 1997, Troy Duffy's pals started making a documentary about him. By the end, it had become a chronicle of his spectacular flameout.




*** (A must-see)

Directed by Mark Brian Smith and Tony Montana

Troy Duffy wanted to be a legend in the entertainment industry, but Overnight probably isn't what he had in mind. In spring 1997 the 25-year-old bartender and bouncer became a minor celebrity when his script for a Tarantino-style shoot-'em-up called The Boondock Saints was bought by Miramax Films, which tapped him to direct, and his rock band the Brood began fielding offers from major labels. Mark Brian Smith and Tony Montana, two of the friends Duffy enlisted to start a music and film production company called the Syndicate, agreed to shoot a video documentary about his conquest of show business. But the Brood and The Boondock Saints were both dismal failures, which makes it likely that this chronicle of Duffy's rise and fall will be the most successful project he's ever been involved with.

Overnight portrays Duffy as a sort of indie-film Caliban, ranting about the treachery of the movie business and raving about the vastness of his talent. Perpetually clad in bib overalls, a six-day beard, and a baseball cap with a Boondock Saints logo, he never misses an opportunity to remind his little entourage that he's the golden goose. "Success has nothing to do with how you live your life or how you treat your friends, really," he says privately at one point. "If you've got the goods you've got the goods, no matter what kind of a fuckup you are." When things start to go wrong he foams at the mouth, vowing revenge on the powers that be and dressing down his scruffy pals as they cower in silence. Ironically, he succeeds as an object of sick fascination where he failed as a filmmaker and musician; he's the whole show, and Smith and Montana were simply in the right place at the right time.

The video opens with giddy excitement as Duffy's deal with Miramax becomes front-page news in the Hollywood Reporter and USA Today. His friend Chris Brinker, a studio assistant, had asked to represent his script, and The Boondock Saints had caught the attention of Harvey Weinstein, the fearsome Miramax mogul who'd discovered Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino. Weinstein bought the script for $300,000, giving Duffy a $15 million budget, casting approval, final cut of the picture, and permission to record the score with his band. He even pledged to buy J. Sloan's, the West Hollywood tavern where Duffy had been tending bar, and make the young screenwriter a co-owner. That last arrangement was an example of Weinstein's PR genius, a fantasy element ("Now I'm the boss!") that became a surefire news hook, though the deal was the first in a string of promises that never panned out.

Like the HBO comedy Entourage, the early scenes of Overnight are an endless bacchanal of roaring drunks, hot chicks, and celebrity sightings. Duffy and his crew--including his younger brother, Taylor, a guitarist for the Brood--take over J. Sloan's, which becomes their own personal clubhouse and a hot spot for aging heartthrobs (Mark Wahlberg, Patrick Swayze, Billy Zane, Vincent D'Onofrio, Matthew Modine). Duffy trumpets his ambitions for the Syndicate: "This group, I believe, has more potential to put more creativity on the table than probably any seven men in the history of this whole fucking town." Smith and Montana are among the revelers, and they're as starry-eyed as any of their colleagues. "I quit my job!" Smith shouts into his cell phone at one point. "It's happening, baby!"

Six months later, it doesn't seem to be happening at all. The Boondock Saints has stalled, and Miramax isn't returning Duffy's calls. Before long the company has pulled out, and the herd mentality that made Duffy the industry's new boy wonder now leaves him without a studio. "They just made the mother of all Miramax fuckups," he tells his dejected staff. "When they come back to the table and they want back in, once this thing is filmed, they're gonna pay their way back in." Duffy blames the turnaround on Miramax's new production executive, Meryl Poster, claiming that she considers him "a boozing, womanizing asshole who never deserved this in the first place." (A more likely motivation is commerce: a power behind the throne, Poster tried to steer Miramax away from controversial indies like Priest and Kids and toward mainstream art films like Shakespeare in Love and The Cider House Rules.)

As Overnight makes clear, Harvey giveth, and Harvey taketh away. Once The Boondock Saints is orphaned, the Brood loses its contract with Maverick Records, which signed the band unheard on the understanding that its first release would be the movie sound track. Duffy is turned away from the label's offices, which prompts another stern lecture to his troops: "Maverick Records doesn't scare me on this! As a matter of fact, we are scaring them shitless right now. They're the ones having little emergency meetings and not letting me in the front door of Maverick. They're the ones calling up our lawyers feverishly, trying to schedule something with me. They're on the fucking run right now, not us." The others stare dully at the table or off into space, as people often do when someone in power is clearly delusional.

Miraculously, The Boondock Saints did get produced. The independent Franchise Films offered Duffy a budget of about $6 million, and the movie was shot on a brisk 32-day schedule with a cast that includes Willem Dafoe, Billy Connolly, and potbellied porn star Ron Jeremy. A macho bloodbath with a lot of juvenile humor and fake Catholic mysticism, it stars Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus (a good actor damned to a career of crummy movies) as immigrant Irish brothers in South Boston. Inspired by a priest's sermon, they decide to rid the city of "evil men" and begin staging elaborate slaughters of underworld figures. Dafoe is a gay FBI agent who struts around the crime scenes in a four-button jacket (though his sexuality is excused because he's a tough SOB who dismisses one lover as a "fag"). The movie collapses into burlesque near the end, as Dafoe shows up in drag during one of the brothers' raids, and climaxes with the brothers ritually executing a mob boss in the courtroom where he's just been acquitted.

It's pretty bad, but The Boondock Saints does provide a grimy window into Duffy's soul. In Overnight he refers to himself as a poor kid from Boston (though his biographical sketch on the Boondock Saints DVD describes him as a native of Exeter, New Hampshire). On the commentary track for his movie he explains that he and his brother lived in a crime-ridden neighborhood when they arrived in LA and admits that he wishes they had a friendship like the brothers in his script. (In Overnight, Troy's mother scolds him for his high-handed treatment of Taylor, remarking, "That is the reason I divorced your father. He had to be up, I had to be down.") In the end The Boondock Saints seems like a mirror of Duffy's frustrated rebellion. With his little posse behind him, he's convinced that he can triumph over the corrupt captains of the entertainment world, though it turns out ritually executing Harvey Weinstein is not an option.

The Brood--rechristened the Boondock Saints--bounced back with the movie, scoring a deal with Atlantic Records, and Smith and Montana show the band members posing for their menacing album photo in bowlers and shades, flanked by rottweilers. After being screened at the Cannes film festival in 1999, The Boondock Saints failed to win studio distribution. Duffy finally paid to have the film shown in five theaters (in Boston, New York, and LA) in January 2000; it closed a week later with a nationwide gross of about $30,500. The band's CD, Release the Hounds, sold a grand total of 690 copies. Smith and Montana end their story with a montage of the band members slugging it out as manual laborers and Troy Duffy apparently talking to himself outside a bar. Interpolated with the credits are shots of J. Sloan's being torn down.

Like many documentaries, Overnight seems to have a story going on behind the camera, and as a result it becomes more puzzling and less reliable near the end. In addition to shooting the documentary, Smith and Montana were supposed to be managing the band, and they clearly have money grievances with Duffy. Early on they show themselves commiserating in private about his tight-fistedness, with Montana complaining that he's about to get kicked out of his apartment. After the band signs with Atlantic, they ask Duffy if they can borrow against the band's advance and are met with a torrent of abuse. "I don't believe you deserve a thing for the work that you've done for this band," Duffy declares, chiding them in front of the others before flying into a rage and cursing them out. From this point on, it's hard not to see Overnight as an act of revenge, and a mighty sweet one at that.

Yet Smith and Montana also try to finger Harvey Weinstein as the agent of Duffy's destruction, pulling in Washington Post reporter Sharon Waxman to theorize that Duffy's soured relationship with the Miramax honcho scared distributors away from The Boondock Saints. That's a plausible theory, but Smith and Montana never acknowledge the equally plausible explanation given by Duffy on the DVD, that the Columbine High School massacre, which took place three weeks before the Cannes festival, created a backlash against hyperviolent action movies. Most baffling of all is an incident recorded at the Palm Springs International Film Festival: standing outside a restaurant, Duffy is nearly hit by a car that has jumped the curb, and an intertitle reports, "Troy fled his apartment and armed himself." Weinstein may have a long history of personal vendettas, but surely he has better things to do than dispatch an assassin to Palm Springs to finish off a two-bit director. As this movie proves, Duffy is more than capable of finishing himself off.

The Boondock Saints became a cult favorite on video, and Duffy promises on its Web site that he'll soon begin production on Boondock Saints 2: All Saint's Day. Whether the release of Overnight will sink that project or guarantee its completion is anyone's guess. But if this documentary finds an audience I wouldn't be surprised to see Duffy make a comeback as an actor, playing the heavy in low-budget action movies. He certainly gives a jaw-dropping performance here. One can easily imagine him seething at the thought of his two former employees exposing his boorishness and egomania to the world. But in a tale filled with perverse twists of fate, the most perverse may be that Overnight, not The Boondock Saints, is Troy Duffy's masterpiece.

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