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starring ben stiller , elizabeth hurley , maria bello , janeane garofalo screenplay by david veloz , based on the novel by jerry stahl directed by david veloz
permanent midnight is a pretty bad movie , though it took me a few days to conclude this .
the film is more masturbatory than bleak , with its main character intent on confounding us with his stupidity .
( he has a $6000 a week drug habit . )
ultimately , as adapted by veloz , jerry stahl comes off as one of those playground braggarts who chainsmokes at the age of twelve ; you are less mystified by his self-destructive nature than bored into a stupor yourself .
ben stiller plays stahl , a young author who arrives in l . a . with ambition and a nasty drug habit .
he eventually gets a gig for $5000/week writing for a sitcom called mr . chompers ( a thinly veiled stand-in for " alf " : chompers looks just like alf except he's blue ) , marries a producer ( hurley ) so she can get a green card , and hooks up with a spanish mother ( liz torres ) , who shoots heroin with him in the afternoons .
insert proverbial downward spiral here .
permanent midnight is structured mostly as a flashback , with recovering addict bello meeting stiller ( at a fastfood restaurant , where stiller works the drive-thru as part of rehab ) , taking him back to a hotel , and between bouts of serious screwing , listening to his life story .
i've spent the last week trying to figure out why stiller never seemed to find the frighteningly gorgeous hurley attractive-worse , i've been trying to figure out why hurley did find stiller attractive .
as stahl , stiller displays none of the charm or wit one would expect ( post-there's something about mary ) of either the actor or a comedy writer .
what separates stahl from the hundreds of other hollywood punk-junkies , it seems , is that stahl wrote a book about his idiocy .
watch stahl shoot heroin next to a baby !
watch stahl spoil numerous pitch meetings with smack-fueled babble !
stiller gives a technically flawless performance : the film could double as a documentary on how to be a junkie .
but permanent midnight is mostly soulless .
when the movie poses the question will stahl be saved ?
and then answers it in the form of bello's character ( basically a shrink in black panties ) , could a person care less ?
in the film version of his autobiography of the same name , stahl doesn't need saving , he needs someone who will sit there and listen to him go on about himself .
if you learn anything about the other characters in this movie , it's that they are the most incredibly tolerant hollywood-types known to man .
( stahl also seems to be the only person at schmooze parties doing drugs .
is this hollywood . . . california ? )
i learned very little about the entertainment business from permanent midnight and a whole lot about an egotistical lunkhead .
of course you know that stahl triumphed because he lived to talk about his problems .
so , basically , his drug habit got him a book deal , a movie based on his life , and now he's apparently collaborating with stiller on future projects .
so much for the moral of that story .
temporary midnight is more like it .
-bill chambers ; september , 1998