Sunday, March 13, 2011

Blockbusters That Weren't: The Cable Guy

Hello, again. For those in the know, a few Summers ago, I decided to create a blog series called Blockbusters That Weren't. A look back at movies that were poised to become franchises or runaway phenoms. Movies that may or may not have deserved a better reception. Movies that the world chose to ignore. Well, I certainly didn't forget them. The first blog was a celebration of the superhero flop THE SHADOW. The second was a reluctant recant of the 1998 American remake of GODZILLA. Superheroes. Monsters. This time we plunge into the wacky world of comedy with the 1996 laff fest THE CABLE GUY.

First, a bit of personal history. When I was a kid, Jim Carrey was a God. The year 1994 is remembered fondly as the year I learned talking out of my asshole was funny. We didn't get one classic Jim Carrey movie, not two, but three. ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE, THE MASK and DUMB AND DUMBER were all released in the same year. My little dork brain could hardly stand it. Imagine your mom packing you a pixie stick lunch on Monday. You open up your lunchbox on Tuesday and find Starbursts and Gushers inbetween two slices of Wonder Bread. And on Wednesday your mom just sent you to school with a whole bunch of meth. Actually, you could probably compare THE CABLE GUY to comedy meth. After the mega success of those three movies, Jim Carrey became white hot and super famous. The fever pitch really started for me when my favorite comedian ever was cast in a fucking Batman movie. Somebody put Jim Carrey and Batman in the same movie when I was 8 years old. I really have no right to complain about anything, because that there proves the existence of an ethereal presence.

An Ace sequel cashed in on the craze shortly after. Everybody was waiting to see what would come next from The Great One. Including me. I was practically foaming at the mouth at this point as he had some pretty tough acts to follow. Well, future comedy giants Judd Apatow and Ben Stiller dared to try.

THE CABLE GUY is a story of unfathomable sadness. Matthew Broderick's character Steven has recently broken up with his girlfriend Robin, played by Leslie Mann. He moves into a new apartment and with every white yuppie dwelling must come an extensive cable package. So our titular hero arrives and is bribed by Steven to get every channel illegally. The Cable Guy agrees but he doesn't want money. He wants friendship.

Steven ends up going up to the Cable Co. satellite (that word is very hard to spell) with the lug and for a brief shining moment, we see that they could almost be friends.

But that doesn't last very long. In an attempt to integrate himself into Steven's group of friends, Cable Guy (yeah, he has no real name) invites himself into a friendly game of basketball which becomes far too aggressive and competitive than it should be. But if you have ever played basketball with your friends, you can kind of see how it can get this far, as you yourself have tried to make a slam dunk off of your friend's back at least once in your life.

This scene is a great example of the bitchin' grunge soundtrack the movie had. More on that later. The writing is on the wall at this point. Still early enough to cut the chord on this nut, right? Not when he controls your television. Cable Guy sabotages Steven's cable during a big date to try and reunite with Robin. Because Steven has no spine, he agrees to hang out with him one more time, and boy does Cable Guy make it count. He takes Steven to Medieval Times: Dinner and Tournament.


Up until recently, I had never been to Medieval Times. I imagine Medieval Times is a blast for a kid, but my parents and their child rearing style prevented any sort of amazing fun to happen under their watch. Going as an adult is actually rather depressing. As a kid, I could imagine watching the show and all the waiters and waitresses dressed up and all the knights riding horses and think "Wow, it must be really fun to work here". But now it's pretty plain to see how miserable everyone is. If we can figure out a way to power homes and vehicles from the stink of failed acting careers, then Medieval Times would become our number one source for renewable energy. Medieval Times is definitely where acting dreams go to die. And any sort of accidental fun that could be had from working there is prevented with the strict regimen and unchangeable routine of serving the EXACT same meal that has been served every single night since the place first opened. Tomato Soup. Roasted Chicken. Pastry. The menu has never deviated despite their being open for more than 20 years. It's all served with only Pepsi or Coffee and it's all eaten without utensils. "Derick?" you ask. "How the hell do you eat soup without a utensil?" I almost don't want to ruin the surprise of the bowl/handle/spoon hybrid pewter thing they serve the soup in, but consider it ruined. I must say, that if I owned one, I would use it to get Apple Jacks into my mouth faster than I normally do. This should not be a Medieval themed restaurant, but a Third Reich themed restaurant. Had the Axis won, I'm sure they would have assigned the same meal to everyone forever and ever. I'm not saying I didn't have a good time. I genuinely found the place fascinating. I just may still be a tad bitter that my section's knight (yellow) lost in the first round. Watch this.

If you haven't figured it out by now, The Cable Guy does not have a good grip on reality. But their fight somehow steadies their bond enough that Steven accepts the gift of a state of the art home entertainment system from Cable Guy that have less than specific origins. They have a karaoke party featuring all of the other pathetic souls that Cable Guy has met on his odyssey of leeching on to his customers. What follows is the anthem of the Summer of 1996 for me. Even listening to it now, it sounds like a battle cry. For some reason, Jim Carrey's rendition of "Somebody to Love" was a comedy epiphany to me. I purchased the soundtrack and listened to it ad nauseum. This was before I listened to real music. Somewhere out there is video of me performing this song at a grade school assembly with as much emotion and energy as Carrey did. I remember getting thunderous applause. It was one of the many, many, many performances of that song I did during my youth. The moves are probably still embedded in my brain and can be brought back out of retirement should I ever get stuck as a hostage in a bank robbery and I need to funny my way out. Enjoy.

Steven manages to find a girl at this party who is hot and actually likes him, and ends up hooking up only to find out the next morning that she is a prostitute paid for by Cable Guy. Under normal situations, friendships strengthen after such a gesture. But Steven sees this as a roadblock on the path to getting back with Robin and attempts to throw Cable Guy out of his life again. Things get weirder when Cable Guy starts to stalk Robin and savagely (but hilariously!) beats one of her dates to a pulp.

I've tried to fight people in comedic ways before, and it NEVER works. Steven is not appreciative of his efforts, so he has Steven arrested for receiving stolen electronics. Things come to a head when, invited by Robin, Cable Guy shows up to his parents house for a lovely night of dinner and porno password. Watch the next video carefully.

This is proooooooobably the scene that drove my grandmother over the edge. She's the one that ended up taking me to see it, saint that she was. My parents refused to take me. Not for any sort of content reasons, but if they didn't want to see a movie, they certainly weren't going to grin and bare it for their son's happiness. It was no secret how much of a Jim Carrey maniac I was, so it's kind of confusing how they couldn't just say "Well, he loves the guy. Gotta take him". My parents rarely went out of their way to put a smile on my mug. That is not to say they never did. They usually redeemed themselves with Christmas and birthdays. It was the rest of the year that was tricky to get anything out of those two. Anyway, so my grandmother took my brother and I and the movie of course was highly inappropriate for a 10 year old. She had a grave fear of us getting kidnapped, so she always took us with her into the ladies restroom. After the movie, as my brother and I faced the wall of a one of those single room/single toilet handicapped bathrooms in which my grandmother sat on the throne, she proceeded to chew us the fuck out for wanting to see this movie and vowed "If there is another movie that man makes, you will never EVER see it!". It was probably the most humiliating moment of my life, and I will never forget it. There she was, scolding a child for a movie he didn't make but simply wanted to see. Banning him from ever seeing The Grinch steal Christmas or Horton hearing Whos. All while sitting on the fucking toilet. If it's not my number one most vivid memory of my paternal grandmother, it's certainly up there. I probably should have told it at her funeral to lighten the mood a little. Lord knows that thing was somber as shit. But hey, if I ever meet Jim Carrey or Judd Apatow or Ben Stiller, I have a story to tell.

It isn't long before Steven finds out that Cable Guy has been lying about his identity and how he's been fired from the Cable Co. for stalking customers. Cable Guy has kidnapped Robin and Steven must save her during the climax of the movie at the big ol' satellite dish. Cable Guy realizes that years of neglect and too much television have turned him into a complete psycho and decides to kill the beast once and for all by jumping off a scaffolding and into the satellite dish. He lives and is taken away, and it just sort of ends?

Audiences were left completely horrified and offended. It broke Carrey's hit streak and he had to scramble to make a family friendly comedy to save his career, but he turned out just fine. This movie was also shrouded with controversy over the 20 million dollar paycheck Carrey received for the film. It was the first of it's kind as no star had ever been paid that much money for a single movie before. Was it worth it? I certainly think so. The movie has kind of garnered a cult classic status. After people realized what it was, they probably felt more comfortable with enjoying it. It definitely gave me a lot of fond memories from my youth. And it gave me something to write about for an hour or so. In another time, I think THE CABLE GUY would have been a great success. Ben Stiller and Judd Apatow became comedy powerhouses despite the failure of this one at the box office. It's probably the BLADE RUNNER of comedies. It took a long time for me to realize just how psychologically damaged the Cable Guy truly was. I have much appreciation for how much it tried to push boundaries and have fun with highly disturbing concepts. I thought it funny then, and even though it's a whole other movie to me now, I still do. It also may or may not have inspired my decision to have sideburns.

Hey, let's do this again. I got your number...I''ll call me. Okay. Look forward to it! Bye!

- D