Mascott’s Movie Rewind – The Cable Guy

Originally posted August 23rd, 2010.

The Kidd here, and to say it’s been far too long since the last edition of Mascott’s Movie Rewind is an understatement. I wish I could say he was on vacation or taking a sabbatical, but no. None of those are reasons for the delay. Instead, Mascott is kind of like Axl Rose, except not nearly as good-looking, hardly as talented, nowhere close to being as cool, and… well, okay, so he’s not like Axl Rose the man at all. But Axl Rose the artist…? It seems Mascott may have been observing him too closely, as he, for all intents and purposes, locked himself inside the Mascott Cave to keep working on this CABLE GUY piece for hours, which then turned into days, which then turned into weeks, and here we are a month later finally getting to see it. I guess you could call this Mascott’s “Chinese Democracy,” although, once again, not nearly as awesome. I hope the absence made your heart grow fonder… but, if it didn’t, that’s okay, too. Either way, you get to see what happens when Mascott goes back in time and rewinds the dark side of Jim Carrey in THE CABLE GUY.

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THE CABLE GUY
1996
DIRECTED BY BEN STILLER

What have we learned today, children? Yes, we’ve learned that The Kidd believes Axl Rose to be the one true God, and that Chinese Democracy is that holiest of tomes handed down from on high to us commoners.

He has obviously never heard of The Flaming Lips.

THE CABLE GUY is one of those movies that everyone seems to have come across at one point or another. They show it on TBS for 24 hours straight on “Thank Your Thankless Televison Provider Employee Day,” and at any time I’m up after 11 p.m. If you’ve made it past the age of 16 without having seen this movie, someone actually comes to your door and hands you a copy. [citation needed] I can’t think of a time I’ve made a side comment about something from THE CABLE GUY and someone said, “Oh, I never saw that movie.” They always decide that they want to talk about THE CABLE GUY now, and the fact that I was somehow holding an audience while talking about Earthbound now doesn’t matter. I’ve seen the flick at least 5 times now, and it’s entirely watchable even into this, the wood anniversary viewing. So, let’s get on with it, shall we?

The movie starts off with Steven Kovacs, played by Matthew Broderick moving into his new apartment after being kicked out by his girlfriend Robin, played by Leslie Mann. As he’s getting set up in his new apartment, the Cable Guy, Jim Carrey, arrives, and hooks up his cable. Before he leaves, he invites Steven out to see the giant satellite dish where television programming is received. The Cable Guy begins to imagine that he and Steven have become close friends, and becomes…clingy. He infiltrates every aspect of Steven’s life, including his relationship with Robin, and his friendship with Rick, played by Jack Black. When Steven rebuffs these very forward advances for friendship, the Cable Guy becomes more aggressive in trying to be pals (while seeming entirely normal to everyone else in Steven’s life), to the point of having Steven arrested… because who doesn’t love the friend that gets you prison rape for your birthday? Steven needs to prove to everyone around him that the guy who brought both white and red wine to the family dinner is actually psychotic.

The flick is peppered with fun cameos and bit parts. Janeane Garofolo plays a ‘serving wench’ at Medieval Times and Owen Wilson plays Robin’s dinner date who gets the shit kicked out of him by Jim Carrey masquerading as a restroom attendant (a role I take particular joy in because Wilson was in BOTTLE ROCKET one year beforehand, which must have gotten him noticed for this role; Wes Anderson wins again). A recurring bit throughout the flick is the trial of Sam Sweet, a character played by Ben Stiller, the director in a cameo role, accused of murdering his identical twin brother, also played by Ben Stiller – a trial you never actually get to see the end of (apparently, the novelization makes it clear that he was found guilty, for anyone else itching to know the end of that one).

I actually once knew a girl named Sam Sweet. We were friends, then I realized it might not be prudent to be friends with a girl that called me “Penguin.” So now we’re not friends anymore and if she ever sees me again, she’s going to throw a brick through my car window. Ah, those high school memories.

There’s a social commentary in this movie about how television affects our society, how we’ve all been dumbed down by the sheer convenience of it, but it doesn’t always get through clearly. You can tell that it’s present throughout the entire movie, and when it doesn’t jive with the pace of the flick it seems heavy-handed and silly to even mention. The end of the movie, however, deals with and so neatly sums up this cultural subtext that, on a second viewing, the at-first clumsy societal connotations are almost completely smoothed over and are much easier to understand and deal with. It’s one of the reasons I’m a big proponent of second viewings, along with the fact that you catch more of the jokes, and you can time the exact proper moment to throw up your arms in an exaggerated yawn to place around the lady or popcorn bucket of your choosing.

Now, when a big star actor directs a movie, you have to be wary about whose film you’re actually seeing. A lot of actors make this jump because they feel like they’ve been in enough movies to know how to properly direct one, but to me, there’s a lot more to it than experience in front of the camera. Unless they’re putting up most of the money themselves (as opposed to courting studios interested in having “The directorial debut of _____ _____” in their trailer), someone credited as an assistant director or producer who just happens to be an experienced filmmaker will often hold the newbie director’s hand through the whole process. They can guide the direction of the film in unsubtle ways, making it more their film then the big name’s. You can never really know which movies they are for sure, but you can know which movies they aren’t. With that said, I’m pretty sure that Ben Stiller did this himself.

Everything I say from here on out about Ben Stiller’s directing career is purely speculation and should by no means be taken as fact (ed. He’s actually making it up as he goes along).

Our story begins with Danny DeVito, who had started directing in 1986. He started in television, directing an episode of Spielberg’s AMAZING STORIES (On a side note, Danny DeVito is so strange in this business. I really can’t pin down what exactly he does. He acts, writes, directs, produces, sells, distributes and he even has his own documentary channel) and soon after, directed a feature film which he also starred in, which is another way of making sure a big name star makes a good flick (Or a bankable one! It’s called “Hollywood Russian Roulette”). Stiller was actually well suited to be a director, having attended UCLA for a good 9 months before dropping out (Approximately 64% of UCLA film students drop out in their third month, in the week after their first encounter with peyote. 84% of those students are rescued and repurposed as sitcom writers in a joint effort between the Joshua Tree National Park and CBS), so Danny DeVito was willing to give him a chance. REALITY BITES came out of this partnership, and it was actually pretty good. Stiller had proven himself as a director, and would now be able to spread his wings as a director, and to bring his friends with him. Judd Apatow (best known now for SUPERBAD and KNOCKED UP and about 8 other awesome movies) jumped in on his next big project, and Jim Carrey would be paid the highest salary of any actor in history up to that point.

I say that I feel like I know Ben Stiller made this because it kind of *feels* like someone a bit inexperienced made it. Someone that certainly knew what they were doing making a movie, but had only previously gotten their toes wet in the medium (sort of like CHASING AMY). That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s free of a lot of the trappings of the big Hollywood movies in the 90s as a lot of indie movies were, but it’s very obviously not an indie movie. This style is something that Judd Apatow has recently been able to capitalize on in a big way.

Wikipedia also notes that Danny DeVito has a penis that could kill an adult male leopard in a single strike, given the proper velocity and and trajectory. Good to know. Thanks Wikipedia.

…..

I won’t apologize if none of that made sense.

*ahem*

One of the most interesting things I find about THE CABLE GUY, if I can get philosophical for a moment here, is that ‘Chip Douglas’ might be any person in the world that you have these momentary or entirely professional encounters with. Think about it next time you’re out. Every single person you see on the street has their own story, their own motivations, and is screwed up in their own special way. The guy in the car next to you is cheating on his girlfriend. The bank teller is unspeakably addicted to Pepsi. The clerk at the pharmacy is up till 6 a.m. every night writing internet comedy. The cable guy is a sociopath!

(DISCLAIMER-Don’t ACTUALLY think about this when you’re out and about, because your head will fucking explode and the janitor with crippling obsessive compulsive disorder will have to spend four days to get it cleaned up in *just the right way.*)

Favorite Line – “Remember, he who hesitates, masturbates.

Best Actor – I’m going to go ahead and say Jim Carrey. Think of the character he plays. He’s the product of an uncaring mother (notably, she’s also kind of a whore) and an increasingly violent television world (like if Rorschach watched TV instead of jamming cigarettes in kids eyes and biting their ears off). It takes a great actor to pull that off well. Full disclosure though, THE TRUMAN SHOW is one of my favorite movies and I’m very fond of MAN ON THE MOON.

Most Thankful For… – Leslie Mann and Jack Black. The two of them kind of break up the movie, keeping it from being straight-up horrifying because of Jim Carrey’s character.

What Date You Should Watch This On – This is a pretty safe first date movie. It’s got cute scenes where Matthew Broderick and Leslie Mann are together, and it’s uncomfortable enough to bring the two of you closer together on the couch. Of course, that’d be a pretty dirty trick, wouldn’t it, you sly dog you?

After Watching This Movie I… – Power cycled my cable box just to make sure I wasn’t going to have any problems requiring the assistance of a schizoid.

While I Was Writing this Article, I… – consumed anywhere between 3 and 17 years worth of BBC programming. DOCTOR WHO is fantastic. There is an episode where The Doctor fights the devil. Not “a devil,” but he actually fights Satan and sends him careening into a black hole. Best show since FIREFLY.

Recommend Watching? – To be sure. A first viewing is a near necessity, and a second viewing is, as I said, quite worthwhile. Third, fourth, and fifth viewings are, decidedly, optional. I bet the sixth is an absolute revelation.

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