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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

The Cable Guy (review)

Wired for Boredom

If I’d known beforehand that Ben Stiller directed The Cable Guy, I might have been more excited by the prospect of seeing it. And I’d have been all the more disappointed in the end.

The combination of Stiller and Jim Carrey seems like it might have promise. The Ben Stiller Show was brilliant while it lasted, and his posse — including Bob Odenkirk (whom I worship), David Cross, and Janeane Garofalo, all of whom have cameos in The Cable Guy — have spread the snarky lunacy to The Larry Sanders Show and Mr. Show, among other things. Jim Carrey has never been a particular favorite of mine, but as The Truman Show has now demonstrated, when properly reigned in, there’s much more to him than a talking butt.
Reigned in he is not in The Cable Guy.

It seems like a good idea for, say, an SNL sketch. The guy comes to install your cable and stays to ruin your life. Can the concept go the distance for a feature film?

Well, maybe if the characters didn’t act so stupidly. Matthew Broderick is just as milquetoasty here as he was in Godzilla (did he reach his peak with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?), and the lonely, socially inept cable guy (Carrey) latches on to him, trying to make Broderick his new best friend. As the cable guy’s behavior grows more and more bizarre — he threatens Broderick’s girlfriend, he hosts a karaoke party at Broderick’s house, and so on — four little words couldn’t expel themselves from my mind: Call the cable company. Call the cable company. If only Broderick had picked up the phone and checked up on this guy, we all could have been spared a movie that feels twice as long as it is.

The Cable Guy wants to be a dark comedy about the dangers of television. The cable guy is screwed up because his mother plopped him in front of the boob tube too often as a kid — see, television can rot your brain, just like your mom said. But the movie was never surreal enough for me to stop seeing all the ridiculous plot holes — the cable guy annoys but never disturbs.

Stiller’s brand of humor comes across just a bit. Television screens throughout the movie follow the sensational trial of Sam Sweet (Stiller), accusing of murdering his twin — both were child TV stars. If you slog through to the end of the movie, you’ll be rewarded with an ironic zinger at the trial’s wrap-up. But mostly the humor is along the lines of a whole scene that gets its laughs, if you find this kind of thing funny, by having grown adult humans say words like “vagina” and “nipple.”

Har har.


viewed at home on a small screen

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