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(1998) (Ben Stiller, Elizabeth Hurley) (R)

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Drama: A TV writer falls prey to his growing addiction to drugs.
Jerry Stahl (BEN STILLER), a former TV writer, is now in the middle of rehab from his addiction to various drugs, including heroin. Working in a fast food joint, he meets Kitty (MARIA BELLO), a fellow reformed addict who drives up to his drive-through window looking for matches. The two soon end up in a motel room where he eventually begins to tell her about his past.

Arriving in California, the young writer moves in with a friend, Nicky (OWEN WILSON), whose girlfriend Vola (LOURDES BENEDICTO) is good friends with Sandra (ELIZABETH HURLEY), a British staffer on a TV puppet show, "Mr. Chompers." She happens to need a green card and eventually she and Jerry have a marriage of convenience. She also gets him an interview on her show, and his wild ideas for the program immediately land him a writing position.

His drug habit, however, eventually causes him to lose that job. Even so, the buzz about his talent causes agent Jana Farmer (JANEANE GAROFALO) to get him other jobs, including a stint working on a show featuring veteran actress Pamela Verlaine (CHERYL LADD). Yet, his drug problems not only continue to ruin his career, but also endanger his now live-in marriage to Sandra, who eventually gets him to go to rehab.

Jerry's later meeting with Gus (PETER GREENE), a drug dealer who preys upon former addicts, however, hastens his downward spiral into the depths of drug addiction, and his multi-thousand dollar per week habit quickly drives him toward emotional and financial destitution.

Unless they're fans of someone in the cast, it's not very likely.
For pervasive graphic drug use, strong sexuality and language.
  • BEN STILLER plays the TV writer who nearly loses everything to his serious drug addiction (and has casual sex with several women).
  • ELIZABETH HURLEY plays a British woman who marries Jerry for a green card, but eventually cares enough for him to try to help him out of his addiction.
  • MARIA BELLO plays a woman who picks up Jerry in the present at his job and sleeps with him several times.

    OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
    Featuring a great performance from lead actor Ben Stiller, this film is reminiscent of, but not quite as compelling as Mike Figgis' highly acclaimed "Leaving Las Vegas." Based on the real life story of TV writer Jerry Stahl and his subsequent 1995 autobiographical work from which the movie is based, this is the sort of film that's easy to appreciate, yet hard to find entertaining.

    Staged as a series of flashbacks told by the now clean protagonist, "Permanent Midnight" is much like "Leaving Las Vegas" -- or any other film dealing with addiction in a non-glamorous fashion -- in which you watch the painful, and less then entertaining descent into self-destruction by an addicted individual.

    While the film definitely suffers from its flashback-induced, disjointed structure, that flaw surprisingly begins to take on something of a somewhat surreal representation of a former addict's fragmented memory of his or her previous lifestyle. Even so, the haphazard construction of the ninety or so minute film not only gives one the feeling that the source material has been truncated, but it also prevents the film from ever having a strong narrative thrust.

    Events and characters are quickly introduced into what appear to be prominent scenes, but then just as abruptly disappear. Although the individual segments are often intriguing, if not gripping -- including a scene where we collectively dread what's going to happen to an infant in Jerry's drugged up care -- they don't add up to a structurally sound collective whole. Likewise, such moments and the entire movie don't really show a side of this damaging behavior that we haven't seen in many other, similarly based films.

    Nonetheless, one has to commend Ben Stiller ("There's Something About Mary," "Your Friends and Neighbors") for a standout performance in a less than glamorous, and often risky role. Perfectly capturing the essence of an artistically creative junkie -- a volatile combination if there ever was one -- Stiller is not only completely believable (beyond his losing thirty some pounds to look "right"), but like Nicolas Cage in "Vegas," he creates a character you can't help but watch as he self-destructs.

    The supporting cast is certainly decent and competent, but most of the characters are not very well developed. Other than Elizabeth Hurley ("Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery," "Dangerous Ground") -- who always looks great in her ever present fashion model mode -- and Maria Bello (TV's "ER") as Jerry's present day "girlfriend," the remaining characters -- such as Cheryl Ladd as a TV star and Peter Greene as Jerry's new drug dealer -- are sketchily drawn at best and only temporarily present.

    They, like many of the scenes scattered throughout the film, often feel as if something will come of them, but are then abandoned as the story haphazardly jumps to another flashback in the former addict's life.

    While writer/director David Veloz (who cowrote "Natural Born Killers") infuses enough humor into the proceedings to somewhat soften the otherwise depressing and harrowing events, at other times he includes scenes (whether reality based or not), that derail the film's realistic feel.

    For instance, late in the story Sandra calls upon Jerry to babysit their child because she can't find anyone else and must attend an important meeting. While this may have really occurred, and is effectively used to generate some dramatic tension as we wonder what he's going to do -- or allow to happen -- to his child, the moment feels artificial and forced.

    We know there's no way any protective mother would leave her child with a known drug addict -- even if he is the father -- especially since he's rarely been around the child and has proven to be untrustworthy.

    Beyond that, the film never manages to really explore the world of TV writing -- or for that matter, Jerry's life before drugs -- to make his involvement in either more than a superficial examination. Even the film's use of "Mr. Chompers" as a stand in for that awful TV show "Alf" (for which Stahl wrote along with "Moonlighting" and "Twin Peaks") is extremely glossed over.

    Failing to deliver much of anything beyond Stiller's gritty performance, the film never connects with the audience due its fragmented nature that blocks the story from ever establishing a strong narrative feel, and because we never know or care much about the protagonist. We give "Permanent Midnight" a 5 out of 10.

    Considering the plot description, it should come as no surprise that the film is filled with many scenes of drug use, some of which involve needles inserted into various parts of the body, including one into a jugular vein, as well as pot smoking, pill popping, etc... Few viewers (including kids), however, will see any of this as glamorizing drugs.

    Profanity is extreme with more than 40 "f" words and an assortment of other words and phrases occurring. Several sexual encounters, other implied activity, and some nudity give that category a heavy rating. Some implied violence, as well as a suggested suicide (we see the bloody aftermath) are also present. Should you or someone in your home wish to see this film, you may want to take a closer look at the content should any of it be of concern to you.

  • Jerry is a drug addict and we see him shooting up heroin at least nine times (once right into his jugular). We also see a German woman he picks up at a bar shoot up between her legs (presumably into her thigh). Later, a Latino woman shoots up with Jerry.
  • We also learn that Kitty had a drug problem, but we don't see her using any.
  • Nicky smokes some sort of drug, while Sandra has a drink and Nicky and Jerry have beer in front of them.
  • Jerry smokes a few joints while working at the typewriter.
  • Jerry takes some pills (that may be percodan), and then does so again.
  • Jerry has a drink in a bar (as do others).
  • People have drinks at a party.
  • Pamela tells Jerry that she wasted all of her earlier career money "drinking it away or snorting it up my nose..."
  • Gus and Jerry repeatedly smoke some sort of drug (crack?) through a pipe, that causes them to fling themselves against a full wall window in a high rise building.
  • Jerry takes more drugs when he learns that Sandra is pregnant.
  • People drink in a club.
  • Some guys on a bus share what appears to be a joint.
  • We see several glimpses of needles going into arms, and in one scene, Jerry sticks the needle into his jugular, and we see a little blood from that. In another scene, he squirts what is presumably "backwash" blood from a syringe up onto the ceiling.
  • Jerry gets a call from his sister that their mother died and, returning to her home, finds blood everywhere and the carpet drenched -- where the blood seeps up upon him stepping on it.
  • We hear Jerry throw up in a bathroom.
  • Jerry has a slightly bloody scrape on his face after being beaten up.
  • Obviously Jerry has both for becoming a drug addict and hiding it from Sandra.
  • Jerry picks up a woman at a bar who later comments on her husband while she makes out with Jerry (ie. Adultery).
  • Gus has both as a drug dealer who preys on addicts coming out of the rehab center and he talks about "nigger stench" on money in one scene.
  • Jerry goes to get high while taking care of his and Sandra's infant -- often leaving the baby alone in the car.
  • Gus and Jerry smoke some sort of drug (crack?) through a pipe that causes them to repeatedly fling themselves against a full wall window in a high rise building (as if tempting fate by testing the strength of the window).
  • None.
  • Phrases: "Suck my d*ck" (said by a woman), "Holy sh*t," "Dumb sh*t," "Retard," "Weird ass," "Sucks," "I'm not blowing smoke up your crack," "Piss," "Nigger" and "Balls" (testicles).
  • Although it's not presented attractively or with positive results, some kids may want to imitate all of the drug use. During one of those scenes, Gus and Jerry repeatedly smoke some sort of drug (crack?) through a pipe that causes them to fling themselves against a full wall window in a high rise building (as if tempting fate by testing the strength of the window).
  • None.
  • None.
  • None.
  • At least 41 "f" words (1 used with "mother" and 1 used sexually), 24 "s" words, 1 slang term for male genitals ("d*ck"), 7 asses (2 used with "hole"), 2 craps, 1 hell, and 7 uses of "Jesus," 4 of "My God," 3 of "Oh God," and 2 uses each of "G-damn," "God," "Christ" and "Jesus Christ" as exclamations.
  • We hear sexual activity and see brief and partial images (movement, but no nudity) of Jerry having sex with Kitty from behind (but he can't continue or has problems and they then stop). Later, Kitty tells him, "There are only two things you can do in a motel room, and we already did one of them, more or less."
  • There's a very brief shot of a woman in a small bikini.
  • We see a mostly silhouetted shot of Jerry kissing Kitty, but we can see that she's in her bra.
  • Jerry and Sandra watch their TV show in bed and under the covers, but we don't see any activity.
  • We see Kitty in bed wearing just a bra and then see Jerry come up from under the covers and somewhere down her body, implying oral sex (and he then goes back down there).
  • Jerry makes out with a German woman he picked up at a bar. We see him between her legs on the couch (clothed) and him kissing her cleavage. After shooting up, the two have sex and we hear sounds and see movement, but no nudity. She then says, "I just got f*cked by a Jew."
  • We see Sandra in a bra that shows cleavage, and other outfits show cleavage as well.
  • An actress talks about her character "who gets wet every time someone asks her out for dinner."
  • Sandra informs Jerry that she's pregnant by him.
  • Jerry tells Kitty (wanting her to go back to bed), "Last time for the old kosher joy ride."
  • We briefly see Kitty's bare breasts as Jerry has sex on top of her (with their lower halves covered by a sheet). We see movement and hear sexual sounds.
  • Jerry smokes several times, while both Kitty and Gus also smoke, but fewer times.
  • Various other minor and background characters also smoke in scenes set in a bar, party, club, and elsewhere.
  • We see a brief shot of a funeral scene that appears to be a flashback to Jerry's father's funeral.
  • Jerry gets a call from his sister that their mother died and, returning to her home, he finds blood everywhere and the carpet drenched (perhaps suggesting suicide). However, not much emphasis is later placed on this.
  • Drug addiction and how it can ruin one's life.
  • Jerry gets a call from his sister that their mother died and, returning to her home, he finds blood everywhere and the carpet drenched (perhaps suggesting suicide).
  • In a drug-induced hallucination, Jerry briefly struggles with the puppet from Mr. Chompers and slams the puppet's hands in the door.
  • We see two guys who find Jerry in a stairwell shooting up. As they race toward him, the picture goes black and we briefly hear sounds of them beating him. Later, we see his slightly roughed up face.

  • Reviewed September 1, 1998

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