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Movie review: ‘Overnight’

‘Overnight’s’ success is in comeuppance

Dec. 10, 2004, Austin American-Statesman

Troy Duffy chain-smokes like a beast — those feral sucks and bullish exhales, cigarette clamped in a madly gesticulating hand. Smoke belches from his roars and outbursts, the spluttering tantrums of a self-made dictator who isn’t getting his way in a city, Hollywood, where nearly no one gets his way.

Duffy doesn’t know this yet. Duffy has some very big lessons to learn. Let’s watch as an overinflated balloon goes pop, then shrivels, scowling all the way.

Much of the uneasy pleasure provided by “Overnight,” a scratchy chronicle of the ascent and bellyflop of a Hollywood wannabe, derives from, well, the bellyflop. In moviemaking, as in many high-stakes pursuits, schadenfreude is a rampant disease even friends happily contract. One man’s failure is another’s secret triumph, a tiny vitamin infusion for frail egos.

What makes Duffy’s splat an almost vindictive delight for viewers is its delicious inevitability. Duffy, a burly bartender who signed a sweetheart deal with Miramax to direct his first screenplay, is a chest-thumping megalomaniac whose every blurt and finger-jab ferries him closer to self-destruction. Seen here, from 1996 to 2000, the twentysomething Duffy looks to have modeled himself on such shrinking violets as Charles Foster Kane, Muhammad Ali and Mussolini.

Duffy did eventually get his movie made. “The Boondock Saints” is a Tarantinoesque shoot-’em-up that enjoys a decent video life among youths. But this was after his public fallout with indie-film overlord Miramax, which had courted the arriviste. In the mid-’90s, dream deals for newcomers were a reality, and Duffy got one of the dreamiest.

Miramax head Harvey Weinstein signed the blue-collar Boston transplant to a shockingly generous pact that granted Duffy almost Wellesian leverage for a first film, including directing his script with final cut and producing the soundtrack with his rock band, the Brood. Weinstein would also buy Duffy the Irish pub where he worked, and where he drank small tankers of alcohol and proceeded to smash glasses.

The deal sweeps Hollywood. A tyrant is born.

“We will accomplish what no one in this world has ever done!” Duffy, bald, fuzzy and unsmiling, proclaims.

After that: global conquest. His words.

Duffy may very well be talented, and apparently he is. But, as captured by filmmakers (and former Duffy associates) Tony Montana and Mark Brian Smith, he’s a paranoid thug with no idea how to manage the mere notion of success. The Miramax deal serves as divine affirmation of his infallible genius, which was only waiting for this moment to be revealed to the universe. This from a guy who wears overalls.

Luxuriating in his own blinding radiance, Duffy soon finds that Miramax isn’t taking his phone calls. My, he is angry about this. But there’s nothing he can do, this helpless neophyte with no show-biz connections, except fume like a grounded teenager.

The tinseled strands of his overnight glory start to pop and fray, and Duffy gaseously vows revenge on anyone who hampers his path to magnificence. Weinstein will “pay and pay and pay.” Maverick Records, which chose not to sign the Brood, will “pay dearly.”

With small funds from a small producer, Duffy later makes his movie with stars like Willem Dafoe. But he has no luck securing more than video distribution after it screens at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival. In the documentary, this is meant to show how far Duffy has fallen. What’s not addressed is that “Boondock Saints” — filled with trenchcoat-wearing killers blasting people away — screened one month after the Columbine shootings. Studios weren’t getting near that subject matter. (Also unremarked is that Duffy is currently making a sequel to his movie.)

Elisions like this are perhaps what you get in a movie made by disgruntled employees about their former boss. Montana and Smith, who co-managed the rock band, have a nasty on-film falling out with Duffy and the group. To them, they got a raw deal.

“Overnight,” which played the Austin Film Festival in October, exploits the truism that malevolent characters are more interesting than saintly ones. The filmmakers are not interested in the other side of Duffy, if indeed there is one, assembling an aggressively one-note portrait of unbridled boorishness that grazes caricature.

What makes for uneasiness is how much you dislike Duffy and how this seems to be the entire point of the movie. If “Overnight” is a cautionary tale, it’s too extreme to be instructive. If it’s a big bubble bath of schadenfreude — revel in the spectacle of a bully’s dreams going poof — then here’s your Oscar.

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