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The Best Movie You Never Saw: The Cable Guy

10.20.2017

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be looking at THE CABLE GUY!

THE STORY: A newly single man (Matthew Broderick) is stalked by a crazed cable man (Jim Carrey) bent on becoming his best friend.

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Jim Carrey, Matthew Broderick, Leslie Mann, George Segal, Jack Black, Owen Wilson. Directed by Ben Stiller.

THE HISTORY: In the mid-nineties, nobody was bigger than Jim Carrey. ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE (and its lame sequel, WHEN NATURE CALLS), THE MASK, DUMB AND DUMBER, and BATMAN FOREVER made him a household name, and every studio in town wanted a piece of him. Thus, Sony paid him $20 million to star in THE CABLE GUY, a figure that was widely reported at the time, and dominated press coverage of the film.

What nobody knew was that director Ben Stiller and producer Judd Apatow’s movie was far from the typical Jim Carrey outing. A dark comedy, the usually wholesome star was recast as a nightmare stalker, with his creepy, obsessive side amped up in a way that was bound to alienate younger audiences. In a way, what happened with THE CABLE GUY is similar to what happened with BATMAN RETURNS. Audiences were lured in with the promise of one movie, resented seeing another (which scared kids and was distinctly not family friendly) and couldn’t appreciate how good the movie actually was. They just couldn’t get over being lied to by the ads.

“More than anything it was a misconception of what it was going to be. They sold it as a light comedy – bring your whole family and see Jim jump off a tower in misery. Nobody lost money on it, so it’s cool.” Jim CarreyLarry King Live interview

As a result, after good opening weekend THE CABLE GUY had a precipitous decline at the box office, only grossing $60 million. That’s not a bad figure for 1996 but a disaster for a Carrey movie, which typically grossed at least twice that. The perceived failure was so severe that everyone thought Carrey’s career would never recover, only for his next film, LIAR, LIAR, which returned him to his family friendly comfort zone, to be one of his biggest hits ever.

WHY IT'S GREAT: While audiences in 1996 couldn’t understand what Jim Carrey was doing in a movie like THE CABLE GUY, considering his body of work since then, it feel much more in line with what we know about his sensibility than his earlier hits. As much as we liked ACE VENTURA, THE MASK, and LIAR, LIAR back then – none of them hold up as well as THE CABLE GUY does (except DUMB AND DUMBER of course). It fits in nicely with his really good films – such as THE TRUMAN SHOW, MAN ON THE MOON and ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND. It also helps that the darker Apatow/Stiller aesthetic became in vogue a decade later, making this seem way ahead of its time and a glimpse of things to come.

“It’s near and dear to me. I talked to Stephen Hawking…to his assistant. He’s the smartest man in the universe basically. And they said that THE CABLE GUY was a big favorite of his.” Jim Carreyinterview with Howard Stern

Carrey’s great as Ernie “Chip” Douglas, the TV obsessed cable guy bent on making Matthew Broderick’s timid everyman his best buddy. He’s a nightmare caricature, with his lisp and omnipresence, but it holds up as one of his classic creations. Clearly he was egged on by Stiller and Apatow, and while the result was way too much for a nineties family comedy, it holds up mighty well twenty one (!) years later.

It’s also worth a look for how many of the supporting cast members became part of the 2000’s era “frat pack”, from Stiller (who cameos in the Menendez brothers spoof case everyone’s obsessed with in the film) to Leslie Mann (who would later marry Apatow), Owen Wilson (a cameo as her blind date) and Jack Black – playing it straight as Broderick’s best buddy.

BEST SCENE: For those of you that have seen the movie, “Medieval Times” is clearly the best part – especially once Carrey starts singing Alexander Courage’s “Amok Time” music from “Star Trek – TOS”. But, if you haven’t seen it – and really that’s who this column is meant for – I wouldn’t want to spoil it. Instead, here’s Carrey trying his best to charm Broderick’s family (with the great George Segal as his dad) with a game of “Porno Password.”

SEE IT: THE CABLE GUY is widely available on Blu-ray/DVD, some streaming services, and also occasionally pops up on Sony’s free streamer, Crackle.

PARTING SHOT: THE CABLE GUY is another one of those movies where failure was inevitable, but years later, looks like a secret success. It almost destroyed a couple of careers (although Stiller was only two years away from stardom in THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY) but nowadays, it’s a minor, if obscure classic. Check it out!

Source: JoBlo.com

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