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Permanent Midnight Movie Review

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I may have missed three masterpieces of the small screen, but I've never seen ALF or thirtysomething and the only episode of Moonlighting I managed to catch was the black-and-white film noir tribute featuring an appearance by Orson Welles shortly before his death in 1985. Therefore, the name of television writer Jerry Stahl means nothing to me. His autobiography, Permanent Midnight, might as well have been a novel, and his adapted screenplay feels fake and fictional for most of its running time. If the real Stahl is anything like the slick-skinned jerk that Ben Stiller plays in this 85-minute drugalogue, I can't help feeling that spilling his guts onscreen about his own substance abuse is just another career move. The celluloid Stahl is so full of his own B.S. that I wanted to toss kitty litter at the screen instead of tomatoes. What do we know about him? Well, he helps his buddy look for the stash he ripped off from him and encourages him to build a case against someone else. And he doesn't like the British because they're British, but he marries the lovely “Sandra” (Elizabeth Hurley) anyway, because she needs a green card and she pays him for the favor. She even gets him a job on a television show (thinly disguised as ALF), but is he grateful? NO. Projecting his own mean-spirited core onto her, he decides that she only wants him to be half of a Power Couple. (One look at the spineless Stiller, whose leather pants split when he bends over, ought to dispel anyone's illusions about THAT.) We're supposed to feel sorry for Stahl because he squanders year after year, job after job, and paycheck after paycheck on drugs, but we don't because there isn't a glint of an actual emotion anywhere in this zombie. He mops up his mother's blood like a pod person, he obsesses power agent Jana Farmer for reasons even the wonderful Janeane Garofalo can't make plausible, and he takes his own baby on an extended shopping expedition for MORE STUFF! And then we're supposed to believe that he gets clean, works at a fast-food restaurant, and goes on chat shows out of the sheer goodness of his so-called heart? What heart? Drug addicts don't watch chat shows about other drug addicts, but development deal makers do. C'mon, it's a TRUE STORY! Who wouldn't be moved? Well, me for one. Stiller is drawing raves for growing a five o'clock shadow and rolling his eyeballs, but a persuasive junkie he ain't. The extremely likeable Hurley, Garofalo, Cheryl Ladd (as “Pamela Verlaine"), and E/R's Maria Bello (as “Kitty") are required to say and do dumb things as some of the women in Stahl's life. The two girls who walked out as I walked in clearly weren't being quizzed on Permanent Midnight Monday morning, because they asked for a refund and wandered away, looking for something better to do on a Friday night.

1998 (R) 85m/C Ben Stiller, Elizabeth Hurley, Maria Bello, Owen C. Wilson, Lourdes Benedicto, Peter Greene, Cheryl Ladd, Fred Willard, Charles Fleischer, Janeane Garofalo, Jerry Stahl; D: David Veloz; W: David Veloz; C: Robert Yeoman; M: Daniel Licht. VHS, DVD

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