The Cable Guy

on June 14, 1996 by Christine James
   Cable guys by their very nature are aggravating. "Apparently, he's going to come sometime between 8 a.m. and my death," as Steven Kovacs (Matthew Broderick) exasperatedly tells a friend. Steven has just moved into a new apartment after being kicked out by his girlfriend (Leslie Mann), and he needs to drown his sorrows in a 100-channel universe. When the cable guy (Jim Carrey) finally arrives (just as our nebbish hero is in the shower in full lather), Steven offers him an extra $50 to wire him up with free movie channels. Little does he know that he has just pacted with the devil.
   The cable guy, aka Ernie "Chip" Douglas, turns out to be a desperately lonely character who buys friendships with cable deals. His only frame of reference is television, and his sole desire is to be Steven's undyingly loyal--and omnipresent--friend. Steven tries to humor Chip out of pity, but finds himself being smothered by his obnoxiously aggressive newfound pal. But when rebuked, Chip transmogrifies into Steven's fiercest and most devious enemy.
   What makes this film work so well is the oblique, dark, psycho edge Jim Carrey brings to the role, skillfully balancing funny with scary and thankfully separating Chip Douglas from his overworked "Ace Ventura"/"Dumb & Dumber"-brand characters. One minute he's a charismatic kook performing hilarious karaoke to a Jefferson Airplane classic, and the next, he's a self-appointed hitman, mercilessly brutalizing a cocky jerk who is dating Steven's ex. Instead of being just pathetic and co-dependent, Chip is ingenious and highly resourceful, which makes him much more interesting. Broderick is also amusing as the beleaguered Steven, forever looking as though his polite veneer is barely covering his desperate search for the nearest escape.
   Director Ben Stiller conveys a simultaneous passion and disdain for the medium of television, with abounding idiot box oriented pop culture references and clever satirizations of the public's fixation on the boob tube. Stiller even appears briefly as a sweater-garbed Menendez-lookalike former-child-star-turned-murderer whose televised, sensationalized trial frequently breaks into the film. (Stiller's cronies from TV's "The Ben Stiller Show"--Janeane Garofalo, Andy Dick and Bob Oedekirk--also have fun cameo roles). From Tony Robbins infomercials to classic "Star Trek" reenactments, the subject matter is effectively both revered and skewered. While too silly to build genuine tension as a comic thriller, the well-paced "Cable Guy" will "juice you up" with enough laughs to keep you from wishing you could channel surf. Starring Jim Carrey, Matthew Broderick, Leslie Mann and Jack Black. Directed by Ben Stiller. Written by Lou Holtz Jr. Produced by Andrew Licht, Jeffrey A. Mueller and Judd Apatow. A Columbia release. Comedy. Rated PG-13. Running time: 95 min
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