Picks and Pans Review: Permanent Midnight

updated 09/28/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/28/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Ben Stiller, Elizabeth Hurley

Junkies do not make primo babysitters. Charged with looking after his own baby daughter while his ex-wife is on a business trip, a TV writer (Stiller of There's Something About Mary) takes the infant along while he tries to buy heroin in one of L.A.'s seedier neighborhoods. Then, having scored, he mainlines the stuff into a vein in his neck while the baby wails on the car seat beside him.

It's a horrifying scene, but one that really happened. Permanent Midnight, a cautionary tale for travelers in the Hollywood fast lane, is based on TV-writer-turned-addict Jerry Stahl (Moonlighting) and his 1995 memoir about how he went from being a guy who had everything (cool job, beautiful wife, gobs of money) to a drugged-out loser faster than you can ask for directions to the Betty Ford Center.

The problem with Midnight is that it is difficult to work up a lot of sympathy for this guy. We never fully understand why Stahl, despite hints about an emotionally deprived childhood and his mother's suicide, turns to drugs and can't stop. There is, however, no faulting Stiller's intense, take-no-prisoners performance. In smaller roles, Hurley, Owen Wilson and Maria Bello (ER) all make a good impression. (R)

Bottom Line: Stiller is stellar in a serious turn as a drug addict

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