Stiller's    star    rises    in    "Permanent    Midnight"

Permanent Midnight, the new coming-of-age-in-L.A. tale from 1998 It 
Boy Ben Stiller, is no date movie. People looking for a silly, light-
hearted Stiller flick should go see the summer hit There's Something 
About Mary again (or perhaps rent the underrated Flirting With 
Disaster, available on videotape).  In fact, this first-time 
effort by director David Veloz should come with a consumer advisory 
sticker:  don't go see this movie unless you like your comedy blacker 
than your coffee.
Ben Stiller plays Jerry Stahl (the real-life creative force behind the 80's 
sitcom ALF; Permanent Midnight is based on Stahl's autobiography of 
the same name), a born-and-bred New Yorker wiseass who moves to Los 
Angeles to escape the East Coast drug scene.  Instead, surrounded by 
Hollywood hangers-on sucked dry of all creativity or intelligence, he 
cops himself a heroin habit "the size of Utah."  
Stiller, recently made famous for stumbling around with his privates 
caught in a zipper in Mary, seems hell-bent on stretching physical 
comedy to its absolute limits.  In Permanent Midnight, Jerry perpetually 
wanders around sun-drenched L.A. in gray sunglasses and a black 
leather suit.  His main creative acts take place in bathrooms; after 
shooting up, he sprays the blood from his syringe onto the ceiling, 
in some sort of bizarre tagging ritual.  
Jerry's deterioration is hard to watch - the audience in my screening audibly 
groaned in shock and pity more than once - but that's the point.  
Permanent Midnight would be nothing more than a Just Say No cable 
movie of the week unless Stiller makes his character believable, and 
Jerry, in his wasted, pasty-face state, is definitely no chic heroin 
junkie.  Director Veloz pulls no punches;  one horrifying scene, when
a jonesing Stiller, desperate for a fix, sticks his syringe into his 
jugular while his baby daughter cries uncontrollably next to him, makes 
clear that an addict's behavior hurts everyone around him, not just 
the junkie himself.

Still, Permanent Midnight IS a comedy, and every gut-wrenching scene 
comes with a sharp, funny one-liner - for example, watch for the 
moment when Jerry, splitting his beloved leather pants reaching for a 
handful of pills, has to get his backside sewn up by a friend's 
There are some glaring flaws to Permanent Midnight, but nothing 
unusual for a first-time director.  Veloz uses a mostly unnecessary 
framing plot, having Jerry tell his story in a series of flashbacks to 
a down-at-the-heels Maria Bello (formerly of ER) who picks him up for 
cheap sex at the drive-through Jerry works at as part of his rehab.  
The scenes between Bello and Stiller are the weakest and least 
believable part of the movie - how often do people bare their souls 
during a one-night-stand, anyway? - and could easily have been cut, 
leaving Veloz and Stiller to focus on the richer emotional material 
in the middle of the movie.  
And model-turned-real-actress Elizabeth Hurley is pretty much, excuse 
the pun, wasted as Sandra, a beautiful and all-forgiving businesswoman, 
who marries Jerry for a green card but later decides she loves him 
anyway.  (Note to Veloz: don't have your characters, particularly your 
female characters, say things like, "I just want us to be happy!", 
okay?  I don't care if it really happened that way; such clichés are 
cop-outs compared to the rest of the movie.)
Still, if you're up for an intense and darkly funny jolt of movie 
making, Permanent Midnight is worth a watch.  Catch it at Crossroads 
Mall before the next wave of fall blockbusters roll in.

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