Directed by Ben Stiller, Written by Lou Holtz, Jr., 96 minutes, Rated PG-13.
By our guest blogger, Matthew Schimkowitz
To an Ace Ventura-obsessed public, "The Cable Guy" was a slap in the face to 9-year-olds across the nation when it debuted in 1996 (it's now just out on Blu-ray disc). Its dark sensibilities and sardonic tone pulls no punches. Stiller's film indicts a generation raised on television, leaving few stones unturned and fewer Nick-at-Nite classics unreferenced.
While separated from his girlfriend, Robin (Leslie Mann), Steven Kovacs (Matthew Broderick) strikes a surprising new relationship with his friendly cable guy, Chip Douglas (Jim Carrey). Steven, an all around friendly and well-meaning guy, humors Chip with the prospect of friendship to not hurt Chip's feelings, but the lonely cable guy stops at nothing to please his "preferred customers." Chip's obsession begins to intrude on Steven's personal and professional relationships, forcing Steven to cut Chip loose, and thus sending the disturbed cable guy into a psychotic frenzy.
On paper, "The Cable Guy" resembles thrillers like "Fatal Attraction" and "Strangers on a Train," and at times, the film takes these more unsettling cues. But Carrey and Stiller focus their energy on making Chip's personality disorder funny -- a byproduct of learning the facts of life from watching "The Facts of Life."
Carrey's elastic-man performance kicks the film into hyperdrive, allowing him to be alternately inviting and horrifying. Likewise, Stiller's biting satirical style presents a cartoonish look at the effects of television in its most extreme and mundane forms. To Stiller, the casual viewer depends on the tube for their daily dose of sensationalized escape, while Chip relies on it for guidance.
"The Cable Guy" marked a turn in the careers for both Carrey and Stiller. Carrey's star-power tricked people into turning this offbeat, pitch-black comedy into a summer blockbuster. While Stiller would continue to use satire to skew the industries he's tied to, which heightens his work. Unsurprisingly, the films Stiller directs turn out to be some of his best.
"The Cable Guy" is no exception. For a directorial debut, it's expertly paced and dangerously toned. Carrey's physical and vocal dexterity is hilariously pathetic and menacing, and his magnetic performance drives the film.
Stiller's film might not have been right for a summer release date, but in years since, it's developed a well-deserved cult following. "The Cable Guy" holds up magnificently and provides a nice launching pad for the oft-surprising careers of its masterminds.