When the tagline for The Cable Guy asked the question “Are you ready to get wired?”, it expected the answer to be a resounding ker-ching at the box office. In 1996, though, the world simply wasn’t ready for a Jim Carrey film that didn’t feature crude comedy.
“We made a film that was just a little bit different, and everybody freaked out about it,” recalls director Ben Stiller. Now though, following the critical success of The Truman Show (and Carrey’s Andy Kaufman biopic Man On The Moon), here’s an opportunity to reassess the movie that the comedian himself rates as his own personal favourite.
The 37-year-old Canadian stars as Chip Douglas, a cable TV installer who befriends one of his customers, Steven Kovacs (Matthew Broderick). At first the architect is grateful for the friendly face, having recently split up with his girlfriend, Robin (Leslie Mann). But gradually the cable guy becomes possessive and starts trying to run Steven’s life. And when this doesn’t work, he starts ruining Steven’s life, in chillingly easy fashion. With Steven’s parents (George Segal, Diane Baker) at a loss over their son’s erratic behaviour, things turn really nasty when the professional finds himself in jail. The two men become locked in a ferocious battle of wits, from which there can be only one winner.
As both a dark satire about the power of television and a black comedy portraying a yuppie’s descent into a personal hell, The Cable Guy is a fascinating movie. It contains some hilarious scenes – the jousting sequence in a medieval theme restaurant that’s a lift from Star Trek; the evening spent playing Porno Password with Steven’s family; Carrey’s karaoke rendition of Jefferson Airplane’s Somebody to Love – and there’s an excellent running joke about two serial killer brothers (both played by Stiller) who feature in a Court TV case.
The Guardian said The Cable Guy was Jim Carrey’s best film, “since it suits a style that has a lot more iron in it than most American comedians have.” The Sunday Times also praised the comedian, noting, “Carrey can, at times, be almost psychotically funny – he pushes comedy to the very edge of mania,” while the Financial Times wrote, “At $20million a role, Carrey is the highest paid comedy star in movie history. But what should one pay for a man who turns every facial reaction, every line-reading, into a vaudeville routine? It is not just the elasticity, it is the timing.” Carrey’s basketball skills were less stunning, however. Unable to dribble the ball during the big basketball scene, Carrey was forced to pretend to be dribbling, with Stiller adding the bouncing ball later.
USA / 1996
Writer: Lou Holtz Jr / Director: Ben Stiller
Cast: Jim Carrey, Matthew Broderick, Leslie Mann, Jack Black, Janeane Garofalo