When this film was first released, I went to see it in the theater. I remember really disliking it when I saw it originally. My reaction was probably similar to that of many people. I'd enjoyed Jim Carrey's brand of silly, rubber-faced mugging in previous films such as Ace Ventura, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber, and I was expecting more of the same here. I was neither expecting nor prepared for the pitch black, sociopathic bent of Carrey's new character Chip, the titular cable guy.
We want to like Jim Carrey. A movie that makes us dislike him is a strategic mistake. The opening scenes of "The Cable Guy" are promising; Carrey seems to be playing a variation on his usual hyperkinetic goofball. Then our reaction grows more puzzled: This is supposed to be fun, right? By the end, the movie has declared itself as a black comedy about one very deeply troubled cable guy.
I realize I am setting a trap here. I am insisting that Carrey should have played a character more like Ace Ventura or the "Dumb and Dumber" guy. Yet when he did, I didn't give those performances particularly great reviews. True, but Carrey was growing on me. He was defining his comic space and teaching it to audiences, and I was just about there, admiring his talent and boundless energy while wishing it had been better used than in the dreadful "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls." I was primed for "The Cable Guy." In my mind, I had a notion of how the movie might unfold--a notion nurtured by the ads and previews, which understandably emphasize the madcap zany stuff. The movie is not much like that. The movie character the cable guy most resembles in his psychological profile is Rupert Pupkin, the pathological celebrity hound played by Robert De Niro in Scorsese's "The King of Comedy." Yet the movie isn't trying to make a statement about the cable guy; it is simply trying for laughs in a way that will not produce them.
The plot centers around a character named Steven (Matthew Broderick), who has just been turned down for marriage by his girlfriend Robin (Leslie Mann). He moves into a bachelor pad and calls for cable service, and Chip Douglas (Carrey) comes pounding on his door (making sure, of course, to arrive very late and while Steven is in the shower).
The cable guy is a manic nerd with a lisp and an under slung jaw. He wants to be Steven's friend. He has a lot of trouble pronouncing certain words. "My brother is a speech therapist," Steven says helpfully. The cable guy says, "Tho?" Soon the cable guy has insinuated himself into Steven's life and is offering detailed advice about life (which he reveals he has learned that morning from the summation at the end of a Jerry Springer program). His strategy for getting Robin to come back: Watch "Sleepless in Seattle" with her. Women are suckers for it. Many of these strategies work, and we're reminded of the relationship in the British comedy classic "School for Scoundrels" (which Carrey should remake) in which a cad teaches one-upmanship to a loser.
But soon the movie drifts into murkier waters. The cable guy has an unhealthy need to be Steven's friend, and he pursues that goal with behavior designed to scare anyone. He's a stalker. He's obnoxious and peculiar and inappropriate and relentless, and we start disliking him, and that's when the movie jumps the rails.
And in-jokes, as when the cable guy covers his face with fried chicken skin to imitate a scene from "Silence of the Lambs" (the actor Charles Napier, whose face was borrowed by Hannibal Lecter in "Lambs," turns up here as a cop). And there's a fake TV commercial showing Eric Roberts playing a dual role in "Brother, Sweet Brother," the docudrama based on the Hollywood trial.
But those are all side trips. The main line of the movie heads into deep trouble. My guess is, it did it accidentally. I don't think the writer, Lou Holtz Jr., wanted to do anything other than write a comedy that would please Jim Carrey fans and justify the star's famous $20 million paycheck. But somehow the logic of the story pushed it in another direction. If the cable guy is a pathological pest, then in the second half of the movie he has to be sicker than in the first.
Maybe it would have worked better if the cable guy had become a real friend to Steven, devising love strategies and Machiavellian schemes to win back Robin and thwart her other suitors. As it is, the movie goes in one direction and the cable guy goes in another, and by the end we aren't really looking forward to seeing Jim Carrey reappear on the screen. Note to the producers: There's an old showbiz saying that "satire is what closes on Saturday night." To which could be added another: "Black comedy is not what you pay someone $20 million todo."
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Socially challenged cable TV installer Chip Douglas (Jim Carrey) barges into the life of the hapless Steven Kovacs (Matthew Broderick) in this comedy which seemed to prove a little too dark for Carrey's usual audience.
"I gave you free cable, what have you ever done for me?" What began life as the film that scooped Carrey the title of Hollywood's highest paid actor, ended as being the movie that wiped out his winning streak. Yet for all the debate about whether it was too dark, too radical a departure, or just too crap, The Cable Guy was, let's face it, never going to out-gross Ace Ventura at the box office. A pet detective speaking out of his arse is one thing, but a cable man who buys his buddies prostitutes (having previously checked them out first) or plucks the eyebrows from a love rival, is a whole new comedic ball game.
It was a bold decision by Carrey to eschew his loveable goofball image to such a degree, and as Chip Douglas, the psychotic cable TV engineer who inveigles his way into the life of architect Steven (Broderick), you actually believe he could do some serious damage. The film begins with Steven, having just moved into his new bachelor pad after splitting with his girlfriend Robin (Mann), offering Chip a $50 bribe to chuck in a few extra channels, not realising that this lonely, seriously unhinged guy desperately wants a friend, to the extent that he will take over his life.
The Cable Guy was raised in a neglectful home by his mother who worked nights and told him to stay near "Mr. Babysitter" which was what she called the television, which is effectively what raised him. He never met his father. Later in his life he became a cable installer for an unknown cable company. The company fired him for stalking customers, but he remained undeterred and still used his profession and his knowledge as a cable guy to make friends. Also at some point of his life he developed a lisp speech impediment.
Chip first met Steven Kovacs (the movie's protagonist) when he first installed his cable in his new apartment. Steven tried to bribe him with 50 dollars to get all the channels for free and he refuses the money, but accepted with the condition that they should be hang out as friends. He started off as a seemingly nice and enthusiastic guy, he first took Steven to the large Satellite dish where the company sends shows to peoples' televisions and then took him to his favorite restaurant where they had a realistic medieval duel.
Chip decides to make it up to him again by beating up Robin's new boyfriend and installing free cable for her. Steven appreciates what he has done, but tells him gently that he doesn't want to be his friend.
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