Saturday, September 24, 2005

Hollywood Explosions and Implosions

This weekend's DVD double feature was OVERNIGHT, a riches-to-rags documentary about writer-director Troy Duffy, and THE BOONDOCK SAINTS, Duffy's movie at the center of the documentary.

The start of Duffy's story is the kind that lures the hopeful out to LA; the middle and end of his tale are something those same hopefuls should be made to sit down and take like medicine before booking the U-Haul.

Duffy, a bartender at a Melrose dive, hits the trifecta. He sells SAINTS to Miramax, gets the thumbs-up to direct, and has his band signed for the soundtrack. For the cherry on top, Harvey Weinstein is even in discussions to buy the bar Duffy was working at.

Then, nearly as quickly as good fortune arrived, it disintegrates, at Duffy's own hands.

He yells at the studio. He screams at his agents. He insults the actors he's trying to land for his movie. He bullies his business colleagues. He gets sloppy drunk in front of the camera. Repeatedly. He seems to have no clue about how to operate in normal professional life, let alone Hollywood with its arcane dances of etiquette and propriety.

What he would call "bucking the industry bullshit" most of us call "being a combative asshole."

Did success change Duffy? Only by giving him a bigger stage on which to self-destruct. Watching him with his entourage of enablers, you get the feeling that Duffy was always a controlling egomaniac, with just enough charisma to keep others in his orbit.

Hollywood knows how to deal with a barking dog. The script goes into turnaround, finally entering production with a different studio at half the budget. At Cannes, no distributor will touch it for fear of angering the Weinsteins. A tiny distribution house finally gets it shown in five theaters for a week. The soundtrack sells under 700 copies.

When the inevitable "where they are now" scenes roll, the camera, parked furtively across the street, catches Duffy outside a bar -- working the door? -- apparently talking to himself.

It's easy to feel that the guy got what he deserved, that anyone who brags about a "deep cesspool of creativity" and pisses away golden opportunities many would kill for had it coming.

But I just felt it was sad, even pathetic. This guy's so fucked up that simply treating other people civilly isn't in his vocabulary. People like that just end up broken.

Saddest of all, Duffy brings his friends and brothers down with him. Once aspiring actors, producers, and musicians, we see them at the end of OVERNIGHT in their post-Troy lives: working construction, checking groceries, painting houses.

By all rights, THE BOONDOCK SAINTS should suck. It doesn't. While not great, it feels like a first movie by someone with some talent and competent advisors and staff. It evokes Project Greenlight with its few big names and raw style.

Two Irish brothers turn vigilante against the mob, with a goofy low-level crook in tow and scenery-chewing FBI agent Willem Dafoe hot on their trail (and rather less hot in drag, for the climactic action sequence).

Quirky gangland dramas would be fresh if Tarantino hadn't gotten there first and best, but SAINTS features some inventive scenes and good performances. Family is a big theme, a little ironic given how shabbily Duffy treats his own brothers.

The movie suffers from herky-jerky pacing and newbie self-indulgence, but the story's biggest problem is that the leads are ciphers. We never get a clear indication as to who the brothers are or why they're on their bloody road. One brief scene suggests that they're called to action by God, but the story is missing a crystallizing event to drive this.

SAINTS apparently has found a new audience on DVD, but Troy Duffy won't see dime one, having signed away his ancillary rights.

According to the IMDb, the sequel is in production. Hollywood may be done with Duffy, but he may not be done with Hollywood.


madscreenwriter said...

Caught Boondock Saints by accident on the Movie Network during an attack of insomnia, wasn't sure what it was. Thanks for the overview.

I enjoyed what I saw of Willem Dafoe's performance.

daveblud said...

Is that what really happened to him! I remember reading about him. To avoid hooking up with people like that, is it best to just walk away from their type.