In the summer of 1996, Jim Carrey could do no wrong. He was fresh off of In Living Color, where he spent 5 seasons delivering stand-out comedic performances before segueing to comedic film roles in Ace Ventura Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber. When it was announced that he would be starring in The Cable Guy, which was released 25 years ago today, expectations were astronomically high, to the point where it was near impossible to live up to them. On top of that, Carrey’s salary of $20 million dollars was the most money an actor had ever been paid for a single film role up until that point.
By the time the film was released, however, it was quickly written off by critics as being “too dark” and a “bomb”. But was it actually a bomb??
Directed by Ben Stiller, The Cable Guy is definitely a departure from the zanier Jim Carrey audiences had gotten to know at that point. The film follows Carrey as a stalker-like cable guy with questionable people skills who is intent on doing whatever he can to maintain a friendship with a client, played by Matthew Broderick. Beyond that, the film also examines the after-effects of someone who spent their entire television raised by TV. Would they have a hard time distinguishing what is and isn’t real as they grew older? For any fans looking for Jim Carrey talking through his butt cheeks, this for sure wasn’t it.
The script, which was written by Lou Holtz Jr., was originally developed as a vehicle for Chris Farley. However, once Farley was out of the picture, the script went through extensive rewrites by the film’s producer Judd Apatow and others. It was at this point that the story took a way darker turn, and delivered something that perhaps audiences weren’t quite prepared for from the likes of Fire Marshall Bill.
When people write about The Cable Guy’s release today, the word “bomb” is thrown around. However, that is not necessarily the case. There were plenty of critics who didn’t care for the film. But on Rotten Tomatoes, the reviews average 56%, which is a far cry from what one might believe. In actuality, the reviews for The Cable Guy exceeded those of Carrey’s film breakout, Ace Ventura Pet Detective. And financially, the movie hardly did poorly. Against a $40 million dollar budget, it managed to more than double that, taking in over $100 million dollars. That doesn’t sound like a bomb to us.
So why is it considered a bomb? Frankly, it might be because of expectations. When you’ve got so much riding on a particular project, it is near impossible to ever live up to those expectations. So at the first sight of something being different or out of place – in this case, it was the film’s admittedly darker tone -, people are going to blow that out of proportion and be quick to write it off as a failure, regardless of whether or not it actually is one.
But when you watch it today, the film hardly reads as all that dark or out of place in 2021 standards. The character Carrey plays -whose name isn’t totally made certain of- is definitely deranged, but it’s also not unheard of for a protagonist to go as far as Carrey’s does. But in 1996, it was a bold move that had a lot of risk involved. Which makes the experiment and the end result all the cooler in our opinion. But it’s all about timing. And unfortunately for The Cable Guy, the timing in the summer of 1996 wasn’t right for it to be as embraced as it deserved to be, unfortunately.
However, in the summer of 2021, the timing is absolutely right, and it has gone onto become a cult classic. So if you haven’t seen it before, we recommend giving it a watch! It’s a weird, wonderful, funny dark ride! (The Medieval Times sequence alone belongs in a time capsule to be studied by comedy film nerds for years to come).