Permanent Midnight

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Permanent Midnight

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Permanent Midnight

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After a stint working for Hustler and Penthouse, Jerry Stahl made his way to Hollywood, where he found work in the '80s writing for Alf, Moonlighting, and the short-lived 21 Jump Street spinoff Booker. Always a drug user, the high-paying jobs allowed him to develop a heroin habit to match his frustration at having to do work he felt was beneath his talent. Permanent Midnight, the best-selling 1995 memoir of his struggle to overcome the habit that destroyed his career and marriage, is harrowing and darkly funny, but also distant and unsatisfying. In the book, Stahl's career frustration serves as a dubiously simple excuse for self-destruction, and the film adaptation fails to improve upon that flaw in any significant way. Like Stahl's book, the movie, directed by Natural Born Killers writer David Veloz, has just enough dark wit to make it an above-average to-hell-and-back drug story, but only just enough. What it does possess is an outstanding performance by Ben Stiller as Stahl. He captures the manic highs and desperate lows of addiction in a way that's thoroughly convincing, and in a year that's seen impressive turns by Stiller in There's Something About Mary, Zero Effect, and Your Friends And Neighbors, this is the one that really stands out. The supporting cast, particularly Owen Wilson as a drug buddy and Peter Greene as a sleazy dealer, is fine as well. It's just too bad that the film in which they appear finds very little new to do with a familiar story, although one scene—in which Stiller bottoms out by shooting up in a car with his infant daughter in the next seat, as an inane self-improvement pitchman plays on the radio—comes close. The framing device, which has Stiller recounting his tale to a fellow recovering addict (Godzilla's Maria Bello) over the course a weekend sex session, stops Permanent Midnight dead in its tracks every time it pops up, but Stiller alone is almost enough reason to check out the film.

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