Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Cable Guy (1996) ***1/2

One of the most underrated comedy of the 1990s, The Cable Guy dared to gaze into the dark psyche of Generation X.  A commercial disappointment in the summer of 1996, Carrey's fans felt jilted by his dark turn. The movie also introduced a whole range of comedic stars in early roles including Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Leslie Mann, and Andy Dick.

Matthew Broderick plays nice guy Steven Kovacs.  When getting cable installed for his new apartment the eccentric cable guy makes awkward attempts to bond with him.  He offers Steven some free cable but there are strings attached - they must hang out once in a while.  At first Chip seems like a kindred spirit until his behavior grows increasingly strange and intrusive, in the vein of Play Misty for Me or Single White Female.

The Cable Guy came out just as the "information superhighway" entered the language as the internet was about to conquer the world.  No one talks about TV rotting people's brain anymore, internet addictions get more attention, adding another layer of odd nostalgia.

Did Generation X watch so much TV it distorted view of reality? That's the sardonic question The Cable Guy poses. The notion recalls the scene in the 1976 film Network: old TV veteran William Holden scolds the younger TV executive played by Faye Dunaway, accusing her of seeing real life as identical to episodic television. An accusation not just at her, but all TV maniacs.

Ben Stiller's direction emphasized pop culture references.  His 1994 film Reality Bites revived interest in The Knack's "My Sharona" and Schoolhouse Rock. The Cable Guy took a more obscure approach with nods to the Star Trek episode "Amok Time" and other ephemera from 1970s pop culture, including a hilarious send up of the 90s culture of celebrity trials with a parody of Court TV obsessives.  Also, don't miss the cinematic references to The Poseidon Adventure and Rosemary's Baby!

One of the last true "Gen X" films until the late 20th century kids reached apotheosis with Fight Club, The Cable Guy throws a wicked gut punch at television's abstract influence on everything it touches, even more so than the overrated Carrey film The Truman Show.

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