Viking Night: The Cable Guy
By Bruce Hall
October 22, 2014
People develop really strong opinions about you when you’re successful. And to most people, getting a check for $20 million qualifies as “successful” whether you’re president of a software company or president of making your ass talk on camera. Like it or not, this is how much Jim Carrey got paid for The Cable Guy. And the day the deal got done was the day the movie died. Audiences saw Carrey as the future of comedy. Critics saw him as the decline of Western civilization. All Columbia Pictures saw was a man whose last five films made $1.2 billion worldwide. Paying him $20 million was like paying Eddie Van Halen $50 for a year of guitar lessons.
But at the time, nobody had ever been paid that much for a movie. Not De Niro, not Pacino - not even Sean Connery, who in today’s cabbage made about $12 million to come out of retirement and play Old Fat Bond back in 1983. Because of this, a lot of people were eager to see The Cable Guy either score big or fall flat on its face. What they couldn’t have known is that future media darlings Ben Stiller and Judd Apatow already carried a lot of clout at the time. So when they landed the billion dollar man - Ace Ventura himself - for this dark, offbeat social satire, they pretty much had carte blanche to do whatever they wanted.
And what they came up with was actually better than you remember. But when your leading man gets paid enough to buy a slightly used Soviet warplane and the film barely earns it back opening weekend - get ready to hear people say you failed. Funny thing is, The Cable Guy actually really IS kind of a funny thing.
Matthew Broderick plays what he was born to play - a mild mannered, slightly dorky executive named Steve. His high pressure job has cut into his relationship, so he and fiancee Robin (Leslie Mann) are taking a break from each other. As such, Steve has moved into his own place, where he discovers the same thing we all did sometime in the mid ‘90s. If you want to watch television you can put away the rabbit ears and get your wallet out, because these days you have to pay to play. Because drinking alone is gauche and the internet was barely a thing in 1996, Steve decides to call the cable company.
They send over a strange, wiry man who calls himself Chip Douglas. Chip has an annoying lisp and a tendency to make aggressive, off-color jokes at inappropriate times. But he gets the job done, even hooking Steve up with free premium channels. In the course of making small talk, Chip suggests maybe they can hang out sometime. Steve agrees, but in the way you do when you’re just trying to be polite but clearly have no intention whatsoever of following through. But Chip is insistent in the way that sad, lonely people often are. So not wanting to be rude, Steve reluctantly accepts, and is surprised to enjoy himself.