Sony // 1996 // 96 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // March 2nd, 2011
For Steven Kovacs, the price of cable is about to go up.
It's hard to know exactly whereThe Cable Guy stands these days. In 1996 the film was a notable box-office disappointment and the subject of harsh reviews, few able to stomach the idea of a lovable fool like Jim Carrey taking a walk on the darker side of comedy. It stalled the directorial career of Ben Stiller (He wouldn't be allowed behind the camera again until 2001's Zoolander), causing the talented filmmaker to retreat to the safety of his now successful acting career. In 2011, it's simply interesting to observe how precisely The Cable Guy predicted certain cultural trends, namely its famous lines concerning worldwide gaming and shopping from the comfort of your own home. In 1996 these things weren't realities, yet today they're taken for granted. The film itself is an underrated farce. The performances from Carrey and Matthew Broderick are exceptional, Stiller doing a fine job of balancing the tone between wacky and creepy. It's a genuinely funny movie, and one that has now been given a top notch Blu-ray release courtesy of Sony.
Steven Kovacs (Matthew Broderick, Godzilla) is kicked out by his girlfriend Robin (Leslie Mann, Funny People) following an impromptu wedding proposal. Robin feels the two need time apart before they can make such a huge commitment, thus Steven is forced to move into another apartment for a while. When the cable guy comes to do the installation at his new place, Steven quietly asks him about the prospect of getting illegal cable, to which he is surprisingly answered with a resounding yes. In repayment Steven agrees to hang out with him the next night, coming to know the cable worker as Chip Douglas (Jim Carrey, Yes Man). However Chip isn't after a friendly acquaintance, he wants a best buddy for life. So when Steven eventually rejects Chip on the grounds of his weirdly smothering attitude, the unstable cable guy unleashes meticulously planned hell upon his most recent customer.
The Cable Guy provided Jim Carrey with his first $20 million payday, a source of great controversy back in 1996. Many have speculated that this played a large part in the film's financial failure, but in my opinion Carrey earns every cent. His turn as Chip Douglas combines the actor's zany over the top style of performing with a seriously demented edge, resulting in a genuinely intimidating onscreen goofball. Carrey's physical comedic instincts have rarely been sharper, yet it's the undercurrent of tragedy he infuses into the role that sets it apart. The rubber faced antics are in strong supply, but there's definitely more humanity here than in the Ace Ventura pictures or Dumb and Dumber. Broderick helps anchor Carrey's craziness with a slower performance, one that favors wry dialogue delivery over insane slapstick. As a pair they work tremendously well together, with Broderick also supplying a sense of sympathetic despair, ensuring viewers care and relate with Steven's predicament. Leslie Mann (an actress only now approaching stardom) gives an ample performance as Steven's uncertain love interest, whilst viewers might also be interested to see a pre-fame Jack Black (School of Rock) and a smarmy Owen Wilson (Drillbit Taylor) in small but entertaining roles.
The Cable Guy is often very funny, but is by turns much bleaker than your average studio comedy. The movie's chief themes seem to be loneliness and rejection, with an obvious side order of stalking thrown in for good measure. It can't have been easy for audiences in the 90s to watch Carrey paddle through such distressing waters, in many ways The Cable Guy offers the first taste of the credible dramatic thespian that would emerge in The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I'm not saying there's much meat or an intense sense of emotional credibility here, but amidst the silliness Carrey definitely embraces a deeper and darker aspect of his personality in The Cable Guy. The screenplay is never coy when it comes to observing the title character's more disturbing tics, but similarly has no qualms with letting Carrey off the leash. There are moments of true hilarity, such as when Chip and Steven visit a medieval themed restaurant, or when they participate in an out of control basketball match. Somehow these instances of madcap hysteria seem to be forgotten in favor of the movie's nastier elements. That's a crying shame.
The Cable Guy makes some astute points during its runtime, many of which have even more relevance today. Its commentary on the evolution of technology and the effects such leaps might have on society is startlingly accurate, gifting the picture a new lease of life in the 21st Century. Of course The Cable Guy is far from perfect, for instance the relationship between Robin and Steven is never bubbly enough, falling by the wayside in exchange for added Carrey theatrics. However there are few projects' I can recall that have the same amounts of remarkable insight evidenced in The Cable Guy. That alone should be enough to justify a reevaluation of its merits.
As is the case with all his movies, Stiller showcases a credible understanding of the directorial game. The film is relatively polished, and even in a few instances (namely Carrey's trippy musical number) visually ambitious. At 96 minutes The Cable Guy could probably do with running a little shorter, but ultimately whilst extra trimming might have been beneficial, the film never feels overindulgent. The Blu-ray captures the film's occasionally loopy aesthetic comfortably, the result a warm and modestly detailed transfer. At times the image is somewhat soft, but it's still a huge improvement over the lame DVD edition from many moons ago.
The disc comes equipped with a lot of bonus features, more than any fan of The Cable Guy would be sensible to hope for. The commentary with Stiller, Carrey, and Judd Apatow is marvelously enjoyable, interestingly marking the first commentary Carrey has ever partaken in. The trio banters heartily and reminisces with an admirable honesty, commenting on how the movie's failure affected them personally and how their careers have progressed. It's a really strong listen. Two featurettes designed for broadcast at the time of theatrical release are included; one hosted by MTV the other Comedy Central. The former is definitely the better, MTV managing to provide both a healthy dollop of irreverent wit and intriguing filmmaking info during their presentation. Comedy Central are far too focused on the comedic element, hence their effort falls flat quicker. Both run for around 40 minutes. There's 25 minutes of deleted material, most of which is tiresome, but there are a few gems to be unearthed. Stiller was right to cut this stuff (the movie already feels a tad long), but that doesn't mean some of it isn't funny. A gag reel and rehearsal footage also make an appearance, as does Leslie Mann's audition tape. It marks the first time her and future husband Judd Apatow conversed, ensuring its status as a whimsical but cute addition to the disc. A music video rounds out an excellent package.
The film's original theatrical trailer is also included. Talk about misleading marketing.
It was despised upon release, but I wouldn't be surprised if The Cable Guy goes down in history as one of Carrey's most enduring vehicles. It's certainly amongst his smartest. This Blu-ray is first-class, well worth an upgrade from the uninspired DVD.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Bonus Footage
* Music Video