Give Jim Carrey top grades for balls-out audacity — even if the movie’s execution makes him look like a dunce. Carrey, the self-proclaimed “highest-paid megalomaniacal boy king in the whole of Babylon,” could keep earning $20 million a flick by playing variations on Ace Ventura until he ground his career into dead ash. Instead he offers the Dumb and Dumber crowd a walk on the dark side.
No sooner has Carrey’s Chip Douglas cable-readied the bachelor apartment of architect Steven Kovacs (Matthew Broderick) than he’s practically moving in with the guy. Chip is a lisper who hides his loneliness with manic energy. Steven, who was just dumped by his girlfriend, Robin (Leslie Mann), needs a friend — but not this nut job. Barging in on Steven’s basketball game, Chip violently busts the backboard. He hassles Steven with phone calls, installs stolen video equipment in his home and secretly tapes his conversations.
So far, so merrily perverse. Broderick’s deadpan terror when he finds he can’t shake the creep makes a welcome contrast to Carrey’s contortions. It’s Single White Female with single white males; Fatal Attraction with sick laughs instead of sick sex. But former Los Angeles prosecutor Lou Holtz Jr.’s first script — purchased for $1 million and intended for Chris Farley — escalates without ever really deepening.
Director Ben Stiller (Reality Bites) lets the movie go appallingly askew from the moment Chip takes Steven to the Medieval Times restaurant and tries to skewer him for real in a mock joust. The scene, like the rest of the movie, seems to drag on forever. Chip brutally beats a romantic rival of Steven’s in a men’s room, engages Steven’s parents in a game of Porno Password and peeps at Robin undressing before kidnapping her and nearly killing her on a cable tower during a storm.
Carrey runs riot, and Stiller won’t stop him. Trite flashbacks to Chip’s boyhood (his tramp mom used television as a baby sitter) are no substitute for the character development needed to help us see Chip as more than a freak. Hilarity and horror aren’t mutually exclusive. Robert De Niro’s pursuit of Jerry Lewis proved that in The King of Comedy. Carrey knocks himself out trying to make The Cable Guy different, then neglects the quiet, telling moments that would make it real.