Friday, February 5, 2016

The Cable Guy (1996) - David Cross #3

or, Getting Our Wires Crossed

Director: Ben Stiller 
Runtime: 96 minutes

The Cable Guy has a checkered history.  Depending on who you ask, it's a massively underrated cult classic, or a complete failure.  It was a failure only in the sense that it fell far short of expectations, especially after Carrey's record setting salary (the first time an actor got a $20 million paycheck).  It still made money, but wasn't as big a success as his previous films like Ace Ventura, Dumb & Dumber, or The Mask.  This is probably because Carrey's character here is much darker than in those movies.  He plays the titular Cable Guy, Ernie "Chip" Douglas, who befriends Steven Kovacs (Matthew Broderick).  Steven and his girlfriend, Robin (Leslie Mann), have separated after Steven proposed.  Steven rents an apartment and his best friend, Rick (Jack Black), suggests he bribe the cable guy for free premium channels. Chip agrees and then tries to become Steven's best friend, taking him on a road trip to a broadcasting satellite. Chip is in every way the over-the-top cartoonish Jim Carrey character, but here his powers are used for evil, as he starts to manipulate Steven's friends and family while further insinuating himself into Steven's life.  

This is... funny, I guess?

To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of the Jim Carrey school of comedy.  There are a lot of scenes that are funny in his hyperkinetic way, but I think I agree with Doug Walker's conclusion that it is a dumb comedy, albeit a rather clever dumb comedy.  Carrey is legitimately creepy, but I don't think he really carries the movie by himself.  Broderick is bland, and we never learn anything about any of the other characters.  We know absolutely nothing about Robin, for example.  In one scene, she is on a terrible date with Owen Wilson, who comes off as an arrogant prick.  When he's done talking about himself, he asks her what she does for a living, only to immediately excuse himself to the restroom, promising that he is "really interested."  We never find out what Robin does for a living. We actually know more about Steven's brother (Bob Odenkirk), who is only in one scene and is otherwise completely inessential to the plot.  Odenkirk isn't the only link with The Truth About Cats & Dogs, as Janeane  Garofalo has a cameo as Medieval Times waitress.

Pictured: the most unlikely Hawthorne reference in cinematic history

Cross's role is extremely brief here as well, Credited as Sales Manager, he plays Steven's work friend, who's only line is laughingly repeating a single word from a pitch Steven makes to their boss.

"Oklahoma" - Cross's only line in the movie
The Cable Guy has aged pretty well, and I like it more than other "wacky" Carrey movies, because at least here he's supposed to come across as creepy and awkward.  Don't get me wrong, I loved Carrey's performances in The Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Man in the Moon.  I just don't like this style of Carrey comedy because it always comes across as all style no substance, what's the weirdest face he can make or how much can he exaggerate this movement.  This works great in small doses (like an SNL sketch), but it's never been enough to get me through a feature length film on its own.

So, if you like Carrey's early comedy, you'll like The Cable Guy.  Otherwise, it has a bunch of good moments, but I don't think it works as a whole.

Next week, the Christopher Guest mockumentary, Waiting for Guffman (1996)