Don't buy into the hype that says "The Cable Guy" is some sort of stretch for Jim Carrey. It isn't.
As a psychotic cable-TV installer desperate for a friend, Carrey uses pretty much the same acting muscles he's exercised in the "Ace Ventura" films, "The Mask" and "Batman Forever."
He's over the top, acting on such a huge adrenalin high that his face seems constantly ready to explode. He mugs, he twitches, he screams. His eyes pop out, the veins in his neck bulge, his voice takes on the timbre of an air-raid siren.
What I'm saying is: Don't go expecting to see a different Jim Carrey.
Expect to see a pretty dark film with some hard-earned laughs and a central character so consistently unlikeable, it's hard to generate any sympathy for him -- despite the filmmakers' occasional mawkish attempt to do so.
You may find Carrey's performance striking, the film interesting, but I doubt you'll want to see it again anytime soon.
For "The Cable Guy" is really different in one way: how it uses Carrey. He's no longer the harmless buffoon of "Ace Ventura," or even the dangerous but comical buffoon he was as The Riddler. He's still a loon, but now he's a sinister one.
This isn't really a comedy -- not even a black comedy, although if you put a gun to my head and insisted I come up with some label, that's what I'd call it. It's more like a psychological drama with a comic performance at its center.
And a pretty dark center it is. Sure, it's scathingly funny in spots, particularly when keying in on the excesses of the modern media (a subplot involving a former child star who murders his twin brother).
Screenwriter Lou Holtz Jr. has a good time lampooning pop culture, as when the Cable Guy first says his name is Chip Douglas, then Larry Tate -- monikers anyone who watched TV in the '60s should recognize. Carrey's karaoke version of "White Rabbit" should be released on video right away; it's an instant classic. And Janeane Garofalo makes a memorable serving wench.
But in the end, "The Cable Guy" evolves into a fairly routine friend-from-hell flick (imagine Carrey playing the Jennifer Jason Leigh role in "Single White Female") with one overriding warning: Don't let TV raise your kids.
More than anything, "The Cable Guy" is simply uncomfortable. It's Ace Ventura as the evil bad guy.
You can't help but feel sorry for Steven Kovacs (Matthew Broderick, a perennial "Why Me?" look tattooed on his face), the unfortunate architect who becomes the target of the Cable Guy's wrath. For the Guy (we never learn his real name) did Kovacs a favor, giving him free premium cable. In return, he asks only that Steven hang out with him.
Some "only." At first, the Guy is just overbearing, calling all the time, giving his new friend expensive presents, showing up uninvited for a pick-up basketball game.
But then he becomes dangerously "helpful," helping Steven win back his girlfriend by beating up her date and sticking his head in a toilet.
And when Steven finally gets around to telling him he doesn't want him for a friend, he becomes downright dangerous. Steven finds himself thrown in jail, fired from his job and forced to say dirty words in front of his mother.
Director Ben Stiller, whose wry outlook on life in the '90s was seen earlier in "Reality Bites," lets Carrey mug on unchecked. Maybe that's because Carrey's being paid $20 million, and who wants to tell your meal ticket what to do? Or maybe it's because he understands that people want to see Jim Carrey be Jim Carrey, regardless of his surroundings.
If nothing else, this film should put that axiom to the test.
Pub Date: 6/14/96
'The Cable Guy'
Starring Jim Carrey and Matthew Broderick
Directed by Ben Stiller
Released by Columbia
Rated PG-13 (language)
Sun score **