Tuesday 9 December 2014

Movie Review: The Cable Guy (1996)

A stalker comic drama, The Cable Guy is part laugh-out funny and part creep-out serious. Jim Carrey stretches his persona into new territory, but ultimately the story occasionally trips on the gap between silly and tense.

Steve (Matthew Broderick) needs to install cable television service in his new apartment, having been kicked out of his old place by girlfriend Robin (Leslie Mann). The cable guy Chip (Jim Carrey) arrives, appears quite strange, but quickly installs the cable while also rearranging Steve's furniture. Acting on a tip from his buddy Rick (Jack Black), Steve offers Chip a bribe in return for turning on pay-TV channels. Chip agrees, labels Steve a preferred customer, and pretends that they are now close friends.

Chip takes Steve on tour of a gigantic satellite dish that feeds the cable service. Afterwards, Chip starts to stalk Steve, interfering with his basketball game, installing unwanted high-grade audio and video equipment in his living room, throwing a wild party and insisting on going out for dinner together. Every time Steve tries to end the friendship, Chip ups the stakes with threats or pleas for pity. Finally, Chip starts to interfere in the relationship between Steve and Robin, as well as within Steve's family.

Directed by Ben Stiller, The Cable Guy generally works but with some static and distortion. Mostly played for laughs, Chip's more threatening behaviour inserts dark tones that can appear out of place. Carrey and Broderick maintain balance and a generally light mood, often overcoming the film's uneven moments with pure charisma.

The Lou Holtz Jr. script does struggle with the dosage between fun and fear, and runs out of good ideas fairly early. Once the premise is set, there is little of substance to build upon lonely and strange guy stalking normal dude with a combination of gifts, victim cards and life meddling. With the dynamic between the two characters mostly static, Stiller is forced into prolonging some pretty mediocre scenes well past their sell-by date, a medieval-style battle between Steve and Chip in a knight-themed restaurant serving as a particularly tedious example.

A real-crime courtroom drama runs in the background on numerous television channels within the film, featuring Stiller as a murderous twin who was a former sitcom child star. The parallel story seems intended as a representation of the new low for television culture, but Stiller the director treats it as an odd distraction, leaving lingering doubts as to whether the idea was ever fully baked.

Better is the overarching theme of the film. Chip is a victim of a childhood spent in front of the television as babysitter, his growth stunted, and his mind atrophied into an inability to conduct normal social interactions. The Cable Guy effectively plays with the cascading consequences of one wrong move, Steve's problems stemming from his singular request for Chip to illegally enable channels in return for a bribe.

Carrey is excellent in the title role, combining comedy and menace to good effect and frequently letting loose with his unique brand of physical comedy, but this time with sinister undertones. Broderick's laid-back attitude similarly works well, Steve a relatively predictable canvass for Chip to paint his plot on. George Segal and Diane Baker have small turns as Steve's parents, while Owen Wilson appears as Robin' new suitor.

The Cable Guy provides a good picture, but can't avoid some crossed wires.

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