The Cable Guy (1996)

In this surprisingly conventional comedy, director Ben Stiller 
(REALITY BITES) attempts to create three things:  another Jim 
Carrey vehicle, a dark "buddy comedy," and a sharp media satire.  
Let's talk about each of these.  As the ACE VENTURA franchise has 
demonstrated, creating a successful cash 'n' Carrey enterprise 
doesn't require much more than a point-and-shoot approach.  In THE 
CABLE GUY, playing an ingratiating super-geek who worms his way 
into the life of an unsuspecting customer (Matthew Broderick), 
Carrey's clowning is just as wide-open as always.  The Amazing 
Contortionist affects a lisp, juts out his jaw, and had the 
audience that I attended with rolling in their seats.  (Even his 
character's most offensive of actions-- such as violently 
assaulting a man in a restroom--  were greeted with roaring 
laughter.)  Is it a characterization, per se?  I don't think so.  
His work as the Riddler, in BATMAN FOREVER, is probably the most 
restrained that the actor has had to endure.  Of course, none of 
this should matter to his fans.  They love his shtick.

As a darker "buddy comedy," THE CABLE GUY is stocked with a good 
supply of situation-based buffoonery.  Matthew Broderick plays the 
mild-mannered target and he does an exasperated slow burn that 
would make Tony Randall proud.  (The reference is intentional.  So 
many of the situations resemble sitcoms that I can't help but 
wonder if Stiller gave Broderick the direction to "act like Felix 
Unger.")  So, for ninety minutes, we get that familiar formula of a 
wacky guy intruding into the life of the straight man.  Daffy Duck 
and Porky Pig were great at this routine and their skits ran under 
ten minutes.  Writer Lou Holtz Jr. provides about an hour's worth 
of yuks, from an amusing extended bit at a Medieval restaurant to a 
very-funny round of the living-room game "Porno Password."  (The 
latter complete with George Segal as Dad.)  No, THE CABLE GUY is 
neither as dark nor as daring as the premise suggests.  Though the 
story is really about one man stalking another man-- oh, the 
radical possibilities contained in *that* statement-- the comedy is 
much more tame and much more restrained than you might expect.

Finally, as a media satire, THE CABLE GUY is probably sharp enough 
for the season, given (a.) the star and (b.) the current dumb and 
dumber competition.  The director has included a ton of TV and 
other-media references, though, oddly, very little of it smacks of 
originality.  Even a background bit with Mr. Stiller playing a 
celebrity murder suspect isn't as funny as it should be.  Part of 
the problem, I think, is that too much of what's on television 
already functions at a level of self-parody.  Channel surf at any 
hour and you'll see shows that are just as absurdly amusing as 
anything that's presented (or parodied) here.  No, it's not NETWORK 
or NATURAL BORN KILLERS, but, hey, any June release that sustains 
*any* level of satire is okay in my book.  And, of course, who 
doesn't have their *own* cable guy story?  When my family moved to 
North Carolina, years ago, I told our installer that we were from 
Minneapolis.  He replied "that's up in Mary Tyler Moore land.  
You're in Andy Griffith country, now."  I reckon he was right.  
Please pass the potatoes, Bea.  (Rated "PG-13"/95 min.)

Grade: B-

Copyright 1996 by Michael J. Legeros

Originally posted to triangle.movies

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