Permanent Midnight (1998)

Written and Directed by David Veloz, based on the book by Jerry Stahl
Starring Ben Stiller, Elizabeth Hurley, Maria Bello, Cheryl Ladd, Charles Fleischer

My Advice: Wait and Rent It.

The story of Jerry Stahl (Stiller), his green card marriage, his uneasy relationship with an alien puppet, and most importantly his brush with destruction due to his drug addiction.  Jerry Stahl is most often associted with the sitcom Alf, whose title character is represented here by Mr. Chompers (puppet worked by Fleischer), who's essentially Alf painted a sickly green.

Just taken on its own, the film is just another portrait of a guy killing himself with drugs.  We've seen it before, so what's there to commend this version?  Ben Stiller, pure and simple.  He makes you believe that someone could actually somehow choose drugs over his gorgeous Brit import wife Sandra, played by Elizabeth Hurley.  That's right--he'd have to be on some serious drugs for that to happen.  Hurley plays the long-suffering spouse as well as can be expected, though it's never clear why the character makes the choices she does, such as letting Stahl babysit for their child when she knows he's a smackhead.  Maria Bello plays Kitty, the woman who Stahl ends up telling his story to in the present, and does well in the role.  But it's Stiller who shines brightest, which is interesting, since he's in the worst shape.  Whether he's describing a whacked-out post-modernist sequence that sprang forth from his head like a woozy Athena for a sitcom or completely in the grips of a heroin withdrawal, he's dead on in the part.

The comic moments of this film are wonderfully pathetic, such as Stiller in a green zoot suit doing a job interview, pale and strung out.  There are some very strong moments in the film as well, such as shots of bathroom ceilings covered in the old expulsions of syringes and a sequence in which Stahl and Gus (Peter Greene), heavily drugged, hurl themselves at a skyscraper window only to bounce back, slightly bruised to the floor, over and over again, as if they're hoping the window will give way and send them to their deaths.  The problem is that these moments are so powerful, that between them and Stiller's performance, the rest of the film just can't keep up.  But regardless, pick it up for Ben Stiller's sake--a great first dramatic role.

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