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Permanent Midnight

Starring Ben Stiller, Maria Bello and Elizabeth Hurley
Based on the book by Jerry Stahl
Written for the screen and Directed by David Veloz
Website: www.permanentmidnight.com

IN SHORTYou should be asleep at midnight. For the art house circuit.

Once upon a time there was a successful TV show called ALF. written by a guy named Jerry Stahl (who also scripted episodes of "thirtysomething," "Moonlighting" and "Twin Peaks". Cranky and his friends would fire up a bong (it was a long time ago . . .) while waiting for the alien puppet to come on the little screen and shred Middle American traditional family values. We'd also get hysterical at the jokes in the show, wondering all the while what kind of drugs the writers of the show were doing? Turns out it was black tar heroin. While the rest of Hollywood was reading the Nielsens, snorting the big bucks up their nose and behaving in that oh so LA way, Jerry Stahl (Ben Stiller) had already done 'em all one better, pounding on his typewriter under the rush of a six bag a day habit.

The point of Permanent Midnight, adapted from the bio-book by the writer, is that the Hollywood creative community is so wrapped up in itself that a talented junkie can become incredibly successful and people will look the other way. At least that's the point it says it is trying to make as you reach the end it. It isn't that Stiller's performance is inadequate, it's fine. Cranky just didn't get a full feeling of this guy's life from the slice served up; didn't get a sense of a true transformation of character as he descends into the depths and then moves towards rehabilitation.

Basically, we start with a pill and pot junkie, wind up with a needle and a major creep you out shoot up scene. According to the press notes, Permanent Midnight is supposed to be about "loneliness and isolation and depression that make a person want to escape reality." It comes off as what it says it doesn't want to be, a "movie about drug use." A scene intended to show Stahl's revelation that he's too old for the junkie life comes off as another desperate hunt for the next fix. Almost every other scene in the tale comes off that way --- gotta get a fix, gotta fix, or just hadda fix. That gets tired, fast. You won't care.

On the positive side, there is nothing in this flick to glorify impaling yourself. There is also little to clue you in on why Jerry falls apart. He's an admitted user when he leaves for LA ("I went to LA to get clean"). He's hooked up for fast cash in a green card marriage with a drop dead gorgeous potential Hollywood power (Elizabeth Hurley) but the length of time between reaching LA and scoring the glitter job is unclear, as are the reasons he gets on the needle. It may have been because of a one night stand. It may be that Jerry had been on and off before we get to know him in the script. That's the fault of the adaptation by director David Veloz, who last scripted Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers,. another film Cranky actively disliked.

Permanent Midnight is as unfocussed as the haze that comes just before a good rush. A central relationship (a one night stand with the very lovely Maria Bello that becomes a multi-day humpfest) exists solely to set up the flashback tale. This coupling is so emotionally unsatisfying that, when it is reintroduced, Stiller's character rightfully asks "how did you find me?" Bit appearances by the likes of Janeane Garafalo, Cheryl Ladd and Fred Willard are entertaining enough, but not enough to suck you in. Actors like to play unsympathetic characters, especially at this time of year. The better performances, indeed the better movies make you emotionally connect on some level (whether positive or negative) to what you're seeing. While all the performances are good enough to make you pay attention, none are good enough to make you care. Permanent Midnight is strictly for the film student rave-up/local art house circuit.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Permanent Midnight, he would have paid . . .

$2.00

Rent it, if you must. It's a passable flick, but nothing that makes you want to care.


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