Films

A 100-channel psycho

Brian D. Johnson June 24 1996
Films

A 100-channel psycho

Brian D. Johnson June 24 1996

A 100-channel psycho

Jim Carrey’s mayhem gets a disturbing edge

THE CABLE GUY Directed by Ben Stiller

Films

It looks like a prime example of Hollywood hubris. Produced by the team that made Waterworid, this is the movie for which Canadian superstar Jim Carrey became the

first actor to receive a $20-million (U.S.) paycheque. But to his credit, Carrey responds to the pressure by going further out on a limb than ever before. After the crowd-pleasing antics of Dumb and Dumber and his Ace Ventura movies, The Cable Guy marks an adventurous departure. Sure, in the title role he plays another in-yourface, over-the-top, wild and crazy guy. But for once he is not a lovable goof. He is a rather unsavory psychotic. And the movie itself is not pure farce: it is satire, with a disturbing edge.

Serving as Carrey’s straight man, the terminally boyish Matthew Broderick plays Steven, who has just broken up with his girlfriend and moved into a new apartment. Nervously, he offers the cable installer a bribe for free pay channels. And that begins a nightmarish co-dependency. The pathologically lonely Cable Guy has no friends, just preferred customers. He wants Steven to be his best friend immediately—and soon becomes the buddy from hell.

Carrey performs the whole movie with a deadpan lisp. Although it is more a speech impediment than an affectation, it injects a weirdly gay subtext into the Cable Guy’s needy craving that is never explicitly addressed. But then, Carrey’s whole style is a kind of outrageous camp. And he indulges his genius for manic caricature in a number of set pieces, including a medieval times

jousting tournament, some sadistic basketball playing—and a priceless karaoke version of the Jefferson Airplane’s Somebody to Love, which Carrey sings with a banshee vibrato that sounds like Grace Slick on acid. Sulphuric acid.

Unlike Carrey’s previous vehicles, however, the movie has some ideas.

The Cable Guy is an orphan of the television age, a neglected child who has grown up with the idiot box as his

foster parent. And for him, like America itself, the scanning lines between TV and reality have become insanely blurred. The movie also alludes to the sinister implications of the information superhighway: the deal with the Cable Guy is just a fibre-optic upgrade of the classic Faustian pact with devil.

Filming against a landscape of constant channel-surf, Ben Stiller—who made Reality Bites and starred in the recent hit Flirting with Disaster—directs with a playful wit. Carrey’s jugular-grabbing style sometimes seems at odds with Stiller’s sly direction, and the haywire plot patches in and out of Hollywood formula. Still, this is the first Jim Carrey comedy for grown-ups. In fact, without a single toilet joke, The Cable Guy may disappoint fans of Dumb and Dumber. It shows Carrey acting smart and smarter—as if a Woody Allen is peeking out from behind the Jerry Lewis mask, eager to nail the neuroses of his generation.

BRIAN D. JOHNSON

Sanitizing a saucy heroine

MOLL FLANDERS Directed by Pen Densham

The franchising of literary titles is getting out of hand. After last

year’s lurid make-over of The Scarlet Letter, Hollywood has skinned another literary classic and left the carcass behind. Like The Scarlet Letter, Moll Flanders is the tale of a woman who defies the sexual morality of her day. But in this case, the film-makers are not even trying to represent the book. Pen Densham, the British-born Canadian who wrote and directed Moll Flanders, says that while he was “inspired” by Daniel Defoe’s 1722 novel, he made up his own story from a variety of historical and fictional sources. The film, unlike The Scarlet Letter, is not ridiculous; it has a certain earnest integrity. But it is a synthetic construct—a romantic fable that has little connection with any reality, contemporary or otherwise.

Defoe’s Moll is a shrewd, conniving prostitute and thief who engages in incest, adultery and bigamy before eventually finding redemption. The movie’s Moll, valiantly portrayed by Robin Wright,

is just a victim. An orphan, she falls into the clutches of a devious madam (played with great relish by Stockard Channing), has a doomed romance with a struggling artist (John Lynch), and finds salvation through a wise ally (Morgan Freeman). Unlike Defoe’s roguish heroine, however, she is boringly virtuous from beginning to end, which makes her redemption seem beside the point. The movie takes Moll’s name, but mollifies her spirit.

B.D.J.