Owen Wilson, Diane Baker
- Rated R
- Buy the BD
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
t could be said that the most amazing thing about “The Cable Guy” is how largely ignored it was by domestic audiences and how shabbily it was treated by critics. What’s even more amazing, though, is how good of a film it really is, and how it’s aged extremely well over the past 15 years. Point two feeds point one, but never mind, you get the point.
The movie is a dark comedy, and oh how I hate to describe it using the “d” word, because every review ever written about “The Cable Guy” calls it dark, sometimes unflatteringly so, as if that’s a bad thing. It is dark, but it’s darkly humorous, and crammed with laughs. Yet the film’s roots aren’t in comedy, but rather the pulpy stalker genre. Producer Judd Apatow and director Ben Stiller freely admit to watching stuff like “Bad Influence,” “Unlawful Entry” and “Single White Female” in preparation for the shoot. In fact, on the commentary track, many different movies are mentioned as reference points, but none that I can recall were comedies. One scene, featuring a karaoke party populated by elderly folk, was apparently inspired by the end of “Rosemary’s Baby.” Heh.
The script, written by Lou Holtz Jr. (who seemingly never wrote anything that got produced either before or since), is practically a carbon copy of every stalker flick you’ve ever seen. Steven Kovacs (Matthew Broderick) is having problems with his girlfriend Robin (Leslie Mann), so he’s moved out and gotten his own apartment. Enter the Cable Guy, Chip Douglas (Jim Carrey), who refuses to take the hint that Steven isn’t looking for a new friend. The rest of the film is almost play for play the kind stuff you’ve seen in all the classic stalker films, only you’ve never seen the material played like this. It occurred to me on this viewing that perhaps the film wasn’t even written to be a comedy, but that maybe there was just something off enough about the script that somebody thought it had comedic potential. Remove Carrey’s over the top performance, and tweak a couple scenes and ideas, and all of a sudden the movie isn’t all that funny anymore (at least not intentionally). Even as is, there are several scenes that border on the disturbing.
Calling Carrey over the top was not meant as a dig. He’s outstanding in the picture, and it easily ranks in his Top Five performances, right alongside far more critically lauded fare such as “The Truman Show” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” He gives the character a weird lisp, but that shouldn’t be mistaken for the usual brand of idiocy Carrey was doing prior to this work. Chip’s a surprisingly sharp guy, and the lengths to which he’ll go to achieve his goals are nothing less than cool and calculated. His entire life and persona has been informed by TV, and he’s a truly formidable adversary for the helpless Steven. Broderick’s really good, too, but there’s simply no way he can compete with what Carrey’s doing, and he probably figured out early on in the shoot that he needn’t bother trying to. He may have thought this movie was going to revive his career, but between the weak box office take and, well, Jim Carrey, he had to wait a few more years for “Election” to come along.
The movie is loaded with cameos: Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, Janeane Garofalo, Andy Dick, Owen Wilson, Eric Roberts, Kathy Griffin, Charles Napier, Annabelle Gurwitch and Kyle Gass are just some of the familiar faces who pop up throughout the picture, and many of them don’t even have dialogue. Then there’s the matter of Jack Black, who was hardly a household name at this point in his career, yet he was cast as Steven’s best friend, Rick. It’s a restrained performance by Black standards, as Rick’s really sort of a straight man (then again, pretty much everyone plays straight man in this movie to Carrey’s antics), but you can still see these little bursts of humor that he’s trying to get across. I doubt anyone who saw the movie at the time watched him and thought, “This guy’s gonna be huge,” and in retrospect it seems a shame that we didn’t.
All the performances aside, “The Cable Guy” is a smart and daring movie. Television itself is sort of the unspoken third lead. There’s an ongoing thread featuring a news story about twin child actors who grew up only for one to kill the other. (Stiller makes his Hitchcock cameo playing both of them.) It’s trashy tabloid journalism that’s hooked the nation, and a vague mash-up of the O.J. and Menendez Brothers trials, both of which were relatively fresh in the public consciousness at the time. At first it seems throwaway, and you wonder what it’s even doing in the movie, but by the film’s climax it becomes one of the smartest ideas in the piece, and effortlessly manages to make a strong statement about our reliance on various forms of piped-in entertainment.
If there are any grievances to lob at “The Cable Guy,” it’s that it perhaps sometimes plays it a little too safe. The movie could probably have gone even further, and been all the better for it, yet it stands as a brave filmic experiment that holds up well today, and deserves to find a new audience through this presentation.
15th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review:
This is a sweet, crisp transfer that doesn’t appear to have had much DNR applied to the picture. There’s a nice even grain throughout the proceedings and the colors pop in all the right places. Likewise, the sound is cracking for a movie that’s not necessarily about great sound. As far as the extras go, the crown jewel is the brand new commentary track featuring Carrey, Stiller and Apatow. Whatever feelings you might have about any of these guys, there can be no denying that this combination should add up to commentary gold, and indeed it does. They’re all three passionate and honest about the project, and full of anecdotes and jokes. This is, in fact, the first time Carrey has ever done a commentary track (which itself speaks to the quality of the film) and after hearing him here, it sure would be nice to hear him do more.
The rest of the extras are worth a scan, but also the kind of fare you’ll watch once and likely never look at again. There are deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel and a fair amount of rehearsal footage. There are two promo featurettes, “HBO First Look” and “Comedy Central Canned Ham Presents: The Cable Guy.” There’s a music video for “Leave Me Alone” by Jerry Cantrell, as well as the film’s misleading trailer. The commentary track aside, the most interesting extra, at least for posterity’s sake, is Leslie Mann’s audition tape, in which Apatow reads the character of Chip off camera. It was the first meeting of the future Mr. and Mrs. Apatow.