Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"The Cable Guy" (1996)

Starring Jim Carrey, Matthew Broderick and Leslie Mann
Written by Lou Holtz Jr., Jim Carrey and Judd Apatow
Directed by Ben Stiller
Rated PG-13 - Language, crude humor, dark thematic elements
Running Time: 96 minutes

The Cable GuyYears ago, when I first saw "The Cable Guy," I, like many others, thought it was pretty awful.  A mostly unfunny comedy that went off in strange directions that I didn't care for.  At the time, I was a teenager and simply wanted more "Ace Ventura" instead of whatever twisted insanity Jim Carrey was pulling off in this particular film. 

Steven Kovacz (Matthew Broderick) has just asked his girlfriend Robin (Leslie Mann) to marry him.  In response, she asks him to move out.  Now at his new place, Steven calls to get cable TV installed.  Eventually, after waiting a fairly unreasonable amount of time, a man appears to install his cable, introducing himself as Chip Douglas (Jim Carrey).  After Steven bribes him for free cable, Chip starts to ingratiate himself into Steven's life, first by essentially guilting Steven into hanging out with him, and then by showing up at his basketball games and more.

For a little while, Steven is content to put up with Chip's odd behavior, just to be nice to him - plus Chip has been giving him good advice on rebuilding his relationship with Robin.  Things start to go too far when Chip installs a large and expensive home theatre system in Steven's apartment without his knowledge.  Steven is upset and demands that Chip remove it, but Chip convinces him to have a karaoke party instead.  At the party, Steven proceeds to get extremely drunk and hooks up with a woman Chip brought to the party... who turns out to be a prostitute.  Furious, Steven throws Chip out and declares that he never wants to see him again.

Spurned, Chip begins to turn Steven's life into a living hell, getting him fired from his job and even arrested.  Chip has turned Robin and Steven's family against him, all except Steven's friend Rick (Jack Black) who has hated Chip from the beginning.  Steven must figure out how to stop Chip and get back his woman before things get too dangerous.

On this second viewing some fifteen years later, my opinion of "The Cable Guy" has turned around entirely.  While I don't think it reaches the heights of genius that Stiller would hit with "Tropic Thunder," it's twisted absurdity, anchored entirely by Carrey's performance, is kind of awesome. 

Jim Carrey throws himself into the role, becoming more darkly unhinged as the film goes on.  Intriguingly, he's a psychotic character who recognizes that he's flawed and almost totally insane.  At one point at the film's climax, when Chip bares is broken soul to Steven, he laments, "I learned the facts of life... from 'The Facts of Life'!" and almost weeps at the thought.  The centerpiece karaoke sequence is totally bizarre and surreal, and impossible not to watch. 

There are plenty of hilarious moments and scenes, especially a scene where Chip and Steven go to the Medieval Times restaurant.  Steven questions why there's Pepsi but no utensils as the supposedly historically accurate restaurant, and then Chip forces them to do battle in the center arena in front of ht entire crowd.  Andy Dick gets a big laugh in his cameo just before Steven and Chip joust.  Another great scene has Chip convincing Steven's family to play "Porno Password" where Steven must elicit crude responses from his mother. 

Still, for all its twisted humor, "The Cable Guy" has faults.  Matthew Broderick is a total milquetoast, which is fine because that's what the role calls for... but sometimes I just can't take him.  There's not much reason given for why he and Leslie Mann's characters are supposedly in love; their relationship isn't particularly developed.  Indeed, really the only thing given attention in "The Cable Guy" is the relationship between Steven and Chip - everything else is simply presented and we're asked to accept it at face value. 

A subplot involving a former child star on trial for murdering his twin brother (a cameo for director Ben Stiller) seems to go nowhere and not add up to much of anything beyond one of the film's funniest bits ("I think it was.... AAAAAASIAN!").  It seems to be trying to make a statement, but it feels muddled compared to the razor-sharp obviousness of Chip's nature - that of a man-child raised entirely by a television and suffering from severe abandonment issues. 

Still, "The Cable Guy" is pretty funny, and darkly fascinating.  Carrey goes for broke, and if you can get on board with it, there's a lot of fun here.  But I can easily see why people would find this performance entirely grating.  It's a small film that doesn't have a lot of scope, but with some fine direction from Stiller and a whole bunch of funny sequences, I do have to recommend that people at least try this one once more.  There's something wildly relevant about it, especially when Chip rants about the inter-connected future, or the idea of a man raised entirely by a television and the myriad psychological problems that would create.

Or, maybe you just want to see some truly insane stalker comedy.