The Austin Chronicle

The Cable Guy

Rated PG-13, 91 min. Directed by Ben Stiller. Starring Jim Carrey, Matthew Broderick, Leslie Mann, George Segal, Diane Baker, Jack Black, Janeane Garofalo, Andy Dick, Eric Roberts.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 21, 1996

You know, the more Ben Stiller movies I see, the more I miss his old television show. That brilliant sketch comedy program was unceremoniously yanked from Fox, I believe, after a single season despite critical praise and a growing legion of fans. Too bad for us, because I think Stiller could have used a few more years honing his directorial skills on the tube before making the leap to feature films. His first, the unoffensive Reality Bites, took the notion of Generation X and hung it out to dry, but never really took the edgy chances the material truly deserved. It was... restrained. The Cable Guy is unlikely to be called “restrained” by anyone, if only by virtue of the fact that the explosive Carrey stars. It is, however, a rather dodgy exercise that skirts around the true darkness inherent in the screenplay in favor of Carrey's facial gymnastics and Broderick's perpetual reaction shots. Broderick is Steven Kovacs, a young professional who has just moved into a new house after being unceremoniously dumped by his girlfriend Robin (Mann). Deep in the throes of heartache, he calls the cable company to take his mind off his worries and ends up with Carrey as his installer. At a friend's suggestion, Steven slips the cable guy (the suspiciously named Ernie “Chip” Douglas) $50 in order to beef up his basic package, strikes up a conversation with the fellow, and suddenly has a friend for life. Before too long, Chip is crashing Steven's pickup games with his pals, giving his reluctant friend expensive gifts, and generally making a needy pest of himself. And when Steven finally puts his foot down and admits he no longer wants to be friends, well, things go from bad to worse to stunningly unpleasant very quickly. Hell hath no fury like a cable guy scorned. Stiller packs the film with sometimes clever, sometimes oppressive meditations on the dangers of the television beast. Chip is presented as a damaged individual whose mother regularly let the glass teat act as babysitter, teacher, confidant, while Steven is shown nursing his broken heart by watching Tony Robbins infomercials and relentlessly channel surfing. He even uses the TV as an aid in getting his girlfriend back. These are heady issues, and ripe with satiric promise, but Stiller shies away from them in favor of Carrey's mugging. To be fair, Carrey is much more restrained here than he was in, say, Ace Ventura. His cable guy is a more psychologically developed (sort of) character than most of his previous creations. Still, the schtick is the thing, and Carrey lisps, cavorts, and flails his way through the film as expected, but not much more. There are, unfortunately, precious few surprises here. The Cable Guy is being marketed as a “dark comedy,” which I suppose it is, to some extent. Honestly, though, it's just not dark enough.

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