The Cable Guy Review
Wow. Is The Cable Guy 15 years old already? This anniversary sees the release of the Blu-ray version of the Ben-Stiller-directed Judd-Apatow-produced dark comedy, starring Matthew Broderick and Jim Carrey. Carrey takes centre-stage as Chip Douglas, a lonely cable installer who manages to engineer a friendship with Steven Kovacs (Broderick) after hooking up Steven's TV in his new apartment. But Steven soon learns that there's a price to be paid for free cable, as Chip's efforts to please his new buddy take a sinister turn when his friendship is rejected.
Jim Carrey's much-publicised $20 million dollar paycheck was always likely to heap more scrutiny on The Cable Guy than was deserved, and when it was released to lukewarm reviews and disappointing box-office everyone behind the scenes took a pretty big hit. Stiller didn't direct another movie for 5 years, and Apatow stuck with his TV commitments until the legend that is Ron Burgundy came a-callin' in 2004. Carrey bounced right back with his usual zany antics in 1997's Liar Liar, which took a huge amount of money, but in some ways the damage was done; no "serious" movie of Carrey's has ever pulled in more than $40 million domestically (the dramedy of Truman Show excepted).
But did the movie deserve the scorn that was heaped upon it? Not entirely. Sony didn't help with their misleading marketing, positing the movie as a more light-hearted affair which led everyone to believe it'd be another vehicle for Carrey's anarchic brand of rubber-faced buffoonery. But given how the movie turned out, one wonders just how they could've marketed it successfully! The reality is that Carrey delivered a surprisingly nuanced turn as the increasingly deranged Chip, keeping the funny but dialling back the gurning, and it just wasn't what people expected. It doesn't help that Matthew Broderick can only do one role: Matthew Broderick. He turns in a typically vapid performance which shifts the audience's comedic expectations onto Carrey even more. Mrs Apatow, Leslie Mann, is equally bland - but strikingly pretty - as Robin, Steven's estranged girlfriend.
It's left to the cameo-packed supporting cast to deliver the rest of the laughs, and they don't disappoint. Owen Wilson is terrific as Robin's obnoxious date who gets beaten up by Chip, and Janeane Garofalo & Andy Dick have small but memorable appearances as snarky employees of the local Medieval Times eatery. George Segal adds a touch of class as Steven's dad, with a pre-stardom Jack Black rounding off the ensemble with a small but quirky role as Steven's friend Rick.
This may be a clichéd thing to say, but perhaps The Cable Guy was ahead of its time. The leanings of mainstream movie comedy towards the more spiteful side of things can be traced back to here, and its very much a 'bromance' (albeit a twisted one) years before the term was even coined. The film also keeps up a running commentary about the pervasive nature of TV, both in the psychoses of Carrey's character and the celebrity murder trial of fictional TV actor Sam Sweet (played by Stiller) which forms a backdrop to the movie. Chip even makes some prophetic statements about the future of TV: "Soon every American home will integrate their television, phone and computer. You'll be able to visit the Louvre on one channel, or watch female wrestling on another. You can do your shopping at home, or play Mortal Kombat with a friend from Vietnam". That's so bang-on it's almost scary.
That said, when looked at 15 years later the movie isn't some misunderstood classic; it's simply misunderstood. The Cable Guy is part bromance, part comedy, part stalker-flick, part satire, and although there's some genuinely funny stuff - the Star Trek style fight scene complete with authentic music, the recorded 911 call of Sam Sweet going on about "Asians" - it's not quite consistent enough with the laughs. When things do take a darker turn, Carrey acts Broderick off the screen and it's all kinda unbalanced. But as a fan of the three main creative forces behind the film there's still plenty to keep me going, but newcomers seeking either the broader improvisational style of Apatow's more famous stuff or Carrey's trademark facial acrobatics will be left cold.
The movie is presented in 1080p at the correct 2.40:1 aspect ratio, encoded with AVC. This being a Super 35 show shot on high-speed stock, it's pretty darned grainy at times. Sony, to their credit, don't take it upon themselves to second guess the film-maker's intentions and so they've left the grain as is. The film source is very clean, with only an occasional speck of dirt on show. Detail varies from mediocre to very good, and the opticals have the expected drop in quality.
Colour can occasionally be problematic, with skin tones looking pink and healthy one minute and sunburned beyond belief the next. I have no reason to believe that this is anything but a source-related issue, as the niceties of digital intermediates were a few years away. (Thankfully the colour hasn't been given a teal-and-orange makeover which is the 'in' thing right now.) The contrast can be similarly uneven, veering from extremely harsh highlights to washed out darkness. The black level is fairly consistent, but as mentioned some darker shots look kinda grey and flat. Compression is generally excellent, although I did spot some banding on the door opened by Robin at the 56-minute mark.
We get the typical DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 treatment, and it does a decent job. The dialogue is nicely balanced, and John Ottman's Elfman-lite music score comes across cleanly. The use of the rears and LFE are sporadic, but you'll know it when they do kick in. The showdown at the satellite dish has lots of effects which swirl around you, e.g. wind, rain, helicopters, police sirens and whatnot.
The newly-recorded audio commentary is pretty good. Featuring Ben Stiller, Judd Apatow and Jim Carrey, the three of them contribute to an easy-going chat track which rarely stalls. It's not exactly mind-blowing stuff, but the guys talk about their reaction to the reaction that the film got, what stuff got cut out and so on.
The deleted scenes (9 in total) feature a lot of stuff seen in the trailer which was absent from the final film, including Chip's sit-down lunch with Robin and more shenanigans at Steven's parents' house. There's an alternate nightmare sequence with some properly freaky 'face coming out of the TV' effects, and a chase scene where Chip pretends to be the T-1000 terminator. The final sequence of the film also had a fair bit cut out; as Steven gets to the satellite dish in the woods Chip pretends to be a headless horseman, which kicks off an extended fight scene. The deleted scenes are presented in letterboxed widescreen in fairly poor quality, running for 24 minutes in total. The 6 minute gag reel is of similar quality, and features the usual 'hilarious' collection of flubs and outtakes.
There are two TV specials on the disc, one from HBO and the other from Comedy Central. Both are better than the usual made-for-TV cobblers, as they feature lots of typically dry-humoured contributions from the filmmakers and actors. The HBO First Look (24 minutes) is the better of the two as it features lots of behind-the-scenes footage, outtakes recorded from the on-set playback feed and clips of Stiller's rehearsal videos. The 4:3 video quality's very decent. The Comedy Central: Canned Ham (21 minutes) looks a little faded, again in 4:3, but it still features some funny moments from Carrey and co.
The aforementioned rehearsals are featured on the disc too, 5 of them for a total of 17 minutes. Stiller's directing the action while camcordering it for posterity, so the quality ain't great yet it's nice to see how certain scenes (basketball game, aborted Bust A Move karaoke sequence, Medieval Times fight etc) were blocked out. Leslie Mann's cute 3-minute audition is also included, again in camcorder-o-vision. The camcorder makes another appearance for a quick minute-long camera test for the nightmare sequence.
Last up is some promotional gubbins, including the theatrical trailer in 1080p, a music video of Jim Cantrell performing "Leave Me Alone", a generic Sony Blu-ray preview and finally a trailer for The Green Hornet in 1080p (which also plays when you first load the disc).
The film is what it is, so you'll either love it or hate it, but this region-free platter is a must-have for fans. Sony have dug into the archives and produced a decent roster of worthwhile extras, making this BD almost as jam packed as a latter day Apatow disc. The video and audio quality rarely rises above average, but that's entirely because this is a wonderfully authentic presentation. Neither picture or sound have been monkeyed with to please the masses, so full marks to Sony again. If only all catalogue titles received this sort of respect.