Friday, June 14, 1996

Review: The Cable Guy (1996)

The Cable Guy
94 minutes
PG-13 (profanity, brief violence)

by Scott Mendelson

The Cable Guy will get attention for three things: for being the film that Jim Carrey first got $20 million for, the film that gave Carrey the chance to stretch, and for being the rubber-faced star's first box-office disappointment. The surprising thing is that it is a very good movie. It's Carrey's best to date and Broderick's best performance since The Freshman (a little seen masterpiece with Marlon Brando). Warts and all, it frightening character study and often uncomfortable experience. It is also arguably Jim Carrey's first film that could actually be considered art.

The Plot: When he's not watching television, Chip Douglas (Jim Carrey) works as a cable guy as a way to meet potential friends. His latest target is Steven (Matthew Broderick), a man living alone after he was turned down for marriage by his girlfriend (Leslie Mann). At first, he seems friendly but strange, taking Steven to a huge satellite dish (where he believes the entire world's cable comes from), or to Medieval Times, where Steven and Chip joust in the center ring (watch for Janeane Garfalo in a great bit as a waitress at the restaurant). But, after awhile, Steven doesn't need Chip anymore (his girlfriend has come back). Chip is deeply hurt by this and sets out to ruin Steven's life. If he can’t be Steve’s friend, then he’ll make sure that Steve never has another friend again...

Matthew Broderick is the perfect Jim Carrey foil. His calm, quiet, sane acting style blends perfectly with Carrey's anything goes method. The rest of the cast does its job well, but the movie is simply a showcase for Matt and Jim. But Chip is a truly pathetic character; a desperately, lonely man who, because he grew up in front of the television (he learned the facts of life from The Facts of Life), cannot communicate in any normal fashion. Everything Chip Douglas knows, he learned from television. Every piece of advice he gives was from the tube, every joke he heard; from the tube, in essence, he IS television (no wonder his favorite restaurant is Medieval Times, its phony atmosphere is just like something that you'd see on TV). In the end, Chip's lack of knowledge of the real world has doomed him to live alone forever.

Of course, this film is supposed to be a black comedy. It is funny at times. During the first hour, Carrey's antics are silly, as usual (his poor singing of "Somebody to Love", during a karaoke party, is amusing). Even during the final 25 minutes, when Carrey starts to go over the edge, there is always a sense of spoof in the madness. Indeed, the entire final sequence, a battle of Carrey vs. Broderick atop the giant satellite dish, is an over-the-top homage to suspense films; complete with a monsoon worth of rain. I am particularly fond of the moment where Carrey mentions that real life doesn't have good suspense music; after which he starts humming the same tune on the soundtrack, or when he holds Mann hostage with... a staple gun. Best of all is a very funny subplot about a murder trial on the tube with former child sitcom star Stan Sweet (Ben Stiller) accused of murdering Sam Sweet (Ben Stiller), after their sitcom was canceled and they joined a religious cult. (Stan claimed repeatedly on the 911 call that Asians killed his brother; a none-too-subtle swipe at the Susan Smith case).

Broderick once again proves he is a master at effective under acting, and Carrey proves he can play both good and evil. While the film is very funny, it was the creepy elements that entertained me. I’ll remember Chip Douglas much longer than I’ll remember Stanley Ipkiss or Ace Ventura. In essence, The Cable Guy is Jim Carrey’s equivalent to John Wayne’s The Searchers and Humphrey Bogart’s In a Lonely Place. Like those two classics, the star of the moment allows his iconic larger than life image to be placed in the real world, where the attributes that defined them in less realistic environments render them sad and terrible people. In The Maltese Falcon, the Bogart tough guy was one to be admired. In In a Lonely Place, he is to be feared, despised, and pitied. In essence, Chip Douglas is the character of Ace Ventura placed in reality. And it isn’t funny at all.

Grade: B+

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