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 girlfriend. 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.