(director/writer: David Veloz; screenwriter: book by Jerry Stahl; cinematographer: Robert Yeoman; editor: Steven Weisberg, Cara Silverman; music: Daniel Licht; cast: Ben Stiller (Jerry Stahl), Elizabeth Hurley (Sandra), Maria Bello (Kitty), Owen Wilson (Nicky), Lourdes Benedicto (Vola), Connie Nielsen (Dagmar), Peter Greene (Gus), Cheryl Ladd (Pamela Verlaine), Fred Willard (Craig Ziffer), Jerry Stahl (Dr. Murphy), Jay Paulson (Phoenix Punk), Charles Fleischer (Allen from Mr. Chompers), Janeane Garofalo (Jana Farmer), Sandra Oh (Friend); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Jane Hamsher/Don Murphy; Artisan Entertainment; 1998)
“Stiller’s forceful performance does his character a solid.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The directorial debut by writer/director David Velozoffers an adequate druggie story, one that is familiar and been made into a movie many times. Veloz adapted it from the 1995 memoir of Jerry Stahl. He’s a successful TV sitcom writer in Hollywood who survived his heroin addiction to live for another day. The grim film, based on a true story, is almost unwatchable but for the black humor and decent performances. The entertainment value is low, but it pulls you in with the inspirational message that beating the addiction is possible. The story is told in a series of long flashbacks. Jerry Stahl (Ben Stiller) is working the drive-thru window of a Phoenix fast-food place as part of his post-rehab stint when he picks up the stranger car customer, another drug survivor, Kitty (Maria Bello), and takes her to a motel. During their tryst Jerry relates the junkie nightmare he has undergone, as he fills her in on the details of his dark trip. Ironically Jerry relates how he came to Los Angeles hoping to leave the Manhattan drug scene. His hipster pot smoking friend from NYC, Nick (Owen Wilson), joins him in Hollywood and through Nick he hooks up with an ambitious Brit TV producer, Sandra (Elizabeth Hurley). She’s in need of a green card and pays Jerry $3,000 to go through a sham marriage. Realizing he’s a writer, Sandra helps him land a high paying gig as the scriptwriter for the “Mr. Chompers” puppet television show. Reality beckons when Jerry learns his mom commits suicide back home in Pittsburgh, bringing him home for the funeral. He’s introduced to smack over a sexual encounter with the Teutonic blonde named Dagmar (Connie Nielsen), who when screwing him yells “I’m [making love with] a Jew!” The toughest film moment is to see Jerry shooting up in his car while he babysits the infant he had with Sandra, who naps in the seat next to him. Veloz never can make Jerry into a sympathetic figure or the film into a junkie high. But, at least, Stiller’s forceful performance does his character a solid.

Permanent Midnight (1998)