April 19, 2011

The Cable Guy

By Robb Witmer Full  |  April 19, 2011

The Cable Guy is largely viewed as a failure. Coming on the heels of the Ace Ventura movies, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber, Jim Carrey was the most bankable star in comedy, maybe in all of Hollywood, commanding a $20 million paycheck to star in Cable Guy.

The box office success of his previous movies suggested this was a bargain, and that Carrey’s salary would probably be earned back before the sun went down on the opening Friday.

Of course, it wasn’t. Not that a $60 million haul is anything to sneeze at, but $100 million had become the expectation for anything Carrey was in. That’s why he gets paid the big bucks.

The moderate financial success of Cable Guy -- as opposed to insanely-huge financial success -- has come to define it as the one big “miss” in that era of Carrey’s career.

Which doesn’t make a lot of sense, because all of Carrey’s mega-hits leading up to Cable Guy are for the most part unwatchable pieces of shit. Audiences were used to these pieces of shit, however, and when a Carrey vehicle came along that didn’t involve anyone literally talking out of their ass, it fell short of those lame expectations. Or fell long, depending on how you look at it.

I had long considered Cable Guy a sort of underrated classic, a movie easily dismissed by the general viewing audience for all the wrong reasons. It is hard, after all, to go from ass-talking and ball-jokes to comedy that is so dependent on nuance.

Upon the most recent viewing, I’d have to say that it is indeed underrated. Classic? Maybe not.

Chip Douglas, or whatever we’re supposed to call him, is a seriously flawed character, raised on TV and neglect. The only way he can experience reality is through what he’s seen on TV, and that he’s seen almost everything in the history of TV isn’t exactly helping.

Carrey’s performance is pretty spot-on. As far as manic, dangerous psychopaths go, Chip is sympathetic and fairly likable. It’s hard not to feel sorry for the guy: He’s got a horrible speech impediment and no real friends.

If anything, Carrey and director Ben Stiller were a bit hamstrung by Carrey’s previous success. There’s just a little too much high-energy, Ace Ventura-style goofiness to Chip, and maybe if this movie would have come post Truman Show it might have avoided the Jim-Carrey-being-Jim-Carrey shenanigans.

The most glaring shortcoming of The Cable Guy is the tone. There aren’t enough big laughs to consider it a great comedy, and it doesn’t get dark enough to make anyone uncomfortable. As deranged as Chip is, he is always coming from a need to belong. When he wrecks people’s lives, it’s in the name of getting and keeping a new friend, not out of any malice. As destructive as it is sometimes, it also feels a bit harmless.

Even Mathew Broderick’s Steven can’t stop feeling sorry for the guy, despite the fact that Chip has managed to destroy almost every aspect of his existence.

If the film had managed to go darker, to make the audience truly scared of what Chip might do next, it could have been more successful as a “black comedy.”

As it is, The Cable Guy is a solid effort. It manages to combine elements of thrillers, comedy and satire, though it doesn’t completely succeed at any of them. Stiller and Carrey gave us something different, just not quite different enough to make it memorable.

Robb Witmer Full never doesn't love the Medieval Times scene.

April 4, 2011

Dogma Collapses

Red State is Kevin Smith starting over.

By Robb Witmer Full 

Maybe since Kevin Smith has always been told that he isn't much of a director, he decided to deconstruct his filmmaking to its component parts and build something new.

Smith has dubbed his foray into self-released films "indie 2.0," but the movie itself is a solid piece of independent filmmaking, very much in the "1.0", or maybe "beta 0.5," mode.

Red State in many ways looks just slightly more polished than what I could produce in my garage. I mean that in a good way. The lack of a musical score gives the whole thing a snuff film feel, and there's plenty of nasty shit happening to keep up the mood.

There is an underlying dread in the background of Red State, kind of like the Blair Witch Project, or Texas Chainsaw Massacre... That feeling that we're watching something we shouldn't.

A lot of that is because we're never given a chance to get comfortable in the story. Every five or ten minutes Smith turns the film in a violent new direction, and Joss Whedon's rule of Any Character Can Die At Any Time certainly plays here.

The main thrust of Red State is that there are inherent layers of bull-shit built into any power structure, and when that bull-shit is left unquestioned is when those power structures get dangerous and allow people to get away with horrible, even primitive, acts.

But we're not left with a lot of time to ponder big ideas. And we shouldn't be. The movie's questions don't have any answers. Certainly not answers a movie can provide us. The pace is quick, and at times frantic... Sometimes, after all, the speed of the real world sweeps us up, and leaves us with no decision to make. Occasionally you get shot in the head.

There's not anyone to root for in this movie. The most redeeming characters get killed off early, and even they didn't have a lot going for them. But it's ultimately not a movie about character arcs, or redemption, or even any sort of victory.

Red State is about a culture in decline, clinging to belief systems that are crumbling themselves. It's the most nihilistic movie since Fight Club, and both films are reminders that society and its dogma can collapse under their own weight sometimes.

Robb Witmer Full considers Mallrats a masterpiece, of a sort.