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Prior to the release of The Cable Guy, Jim Carrey was experiencing one of the most extraordinary hot streaks in Hollywood history. In the less than two-year period between February 1994 and November 1996, the Canadian actor had gone from a relative unknown to the star of five enormously profitable blockbusters – Ace Ventura, The Mask, Dumb & Dumber, Batman Forever and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls. He was a one man Marvel Studios, and his position as Hollywood’s most crowd-pleasing comic looked virtually unassailable.
It speaks to the expectations surrounding a new Carrey vehicle by February 1996 that The Cable Guy managed to gross over $100 million globally and was still widely regarded as a disaster. Directed by Ben Stiller from a script co-written by Judd Apatow, the movie attempts to channel the high-energy Jim Carrey persona into something a little bit darker; a Bromantic twist on the Fatal Attraction/Single White Female format, if you will. But evidently this wasn’t a version of Carrey that audiences wanted to see – at least, not in the numbers the studio must have expected when they paid the actor a then record-breaking $20 million salary to appear in the movie.
Looking back on The Cable Guy now, it’s easier to admire the risks the movie takes, although the end product is still fairly difficult to love. One major problem the film has is that it doesn’t go quite far enough. Versions of the script allegedly had Carrey’s character as an actual murderer, rather than a garden variety obsessive stalker. The lack of genuine threat – and the studio’s apparent refusal to countenance Carrey’s character dying at the end – leave the movie stranded in a tonally jarring no-man’s land between comedy and thriller.
Carrey’s performance is also an issue – at the height of his fame, he was obviously given free reign to indulge his every comedic impulse. Rather than allow the character’s unhinged side to reveal itself gradually, Carrey is exhaustingly, obnoxiously over the top from the first frame to the last – removing any potential tension from the story and sucking the oxygen out of every scene. There are other talented comics in the cast – including Jack Black and Leslie Mann – but you wouldn’t know it from their performances here. Nobody but Carrey is given anything to do but provide window dressing while Carrey acts not with but at them.
The failure of The Cable Guy might be seen as a key turning point in Carrey’s artistic development. It wasn’t the last silly comedy he ever made – the likes of Liar Liar and Me Myself and Irene were still to come, but the backlash evidently stung him enough that he started dialling back the rubber-limbed persona and taking on more nuanced performances in movies like The Truman Show, Man On The Moon and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In the sense that it may have indirectly pushed him into those roles, The Cable Guy might just be one of the best things ever to happen to his career.
In this week’s episode of Beyond The Box Set, we imagine a world in which The Cable Guy actually was an unqualified success – so much so that a sequel was inevitable, rather than unthinkable. Is there another chapter in the story of Carrey’s sitcom-quoting sociopath – and does the blandly dislikable Matthew Broderick really have to be a part of it? Tune in using the links above to hear us exploring the options…
Don’t forget you can hear more from Beyond The Box Set by becoming a VIP supporter on Patreon, where we offer a host of incentives on a pay as you feel tiered system that starts from as little as $2 per month. In this week’s bonus show Beyond BTBS, we review Love Simon and reminisce about our own childhood traumas. Other offerings include a regular 30 second ad slot to promote whatever you like on our show, and the opportunity to pick a movie for us to cover in a future episode.
Next week we’ll be continuing our Actors Turned Directors mini-season with a genuine childhood classic from the 90s. Don’t miss it, or we’ll be forced to lock you in the chokey…