It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
We want to like Jim Carrey. A movie that makes us dislike him is a strategic mistake. The opening scenes of "The Cable Guy" are promising; Carrey seems to be playing a variation on his usual hyperkinetic goofball. Then our reaction grows more puzzled: This is supposed to be fun, right? By the end, the movie has declared itself as a black comedy about one very deeply troubled cable guy.
I realize I am setting a trap here. I am insisting that Carrey should have played a character more like Ace Ventura or the "Dumb and Dumber" guy. Yet when he did, I didn't give those performances particularly great reviews. True, but Carrey was growing on me. He was defining his comic space and teaching it to audiences, and I was just about there, admiring his talent and boundless energy while wishing it had been better used than in the dreadful "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls." I was primed for "The Cable Guy." In my mind, I had a notion of how the movie might unfold--a notion nurtured by the ads and previews, which understandably emphasize the madcap zany stuff. The movie is not much like that. The movie character the cable guy most resembles in his psychological profile is Rupert Pupkin, the pathological celebrity hound played by Robert De Niro in Scorsese's "The King of Comedy." Yet the movie isn't trying to make a statement about the cable guy; it is simply trying for laughs in a way that will not produce them.
The plot centers around a character named Steven (Matthew Broderick), who has just been turned down for marriage by his girlfriend Robin (Leslie Mann). He moves into a bachelor pad and calls for cable service, and Chip Douglas (Carrey) comes pounding on his door (making sure, of course, to arrive very late and while Steven is in the shower).
The cable guy is a manic nerd with a lisp and an under slung jaw. He wants to be Steven's friend. He has a lot of trouble pronouncing certain words. "My brother is a speech therapist," Steven says helpfully. The cable guy says, "Tho?" Soon the cable guy has insinuated himself into Steven's life and is offering detailed advice about life (which he reveals he has learned that morning from the summation at the end of a Jerry Springer program). His strategy for getting Robin to come back: Watch "Sleepless in Seattle" with her. Women are suckers for it. Many of these strategies work, and we're reminded of the relationship in the British comedy classic "School for Scoundrels" (which Carrey should remake) in which a cad teaches one-upmanship to a loser.