Things could be better for Steven Kovacs (Matthew Broderick): he has recently split with his girlfriend Robin (Leslie Mann) and subsequently moved out of the apartment they shared, but he still loves her and wishes to get back together with her. However, he cannot mope about in an empty apartment and what better to do than slump in front of the television for comfort? He waits for the Cable Guy to install his TV for four hours until he gives up and goes for a shower, but naturally this is precisely the time the Cable Guy (Jim Carrey) decides to appear. Steven's friend Rick (Jack Black) told him to offer a bribe for free movie channels, but he ends up getting much more than he bargained for when he brings it up...
At the time this famous flop was released, all the talk was of how outrageous star Carrey's payment of twenty million dollars was considering the middling business the film ended up doing. It did eventually make its money back, but the damage to its reputation had been done and there was only a small cult of fans to claim that it was actually underrated and had in fact been really good all along. Is it? Well, it's more interesting than funny, as the laughs are thin on the ground, but as an examination of how Carrey could use his powers for evil it was the flipside of all those movies where he stole the show with his clowning.
The problem Steven is faced with could easily fit the plot of a horror movie, but here there are comic setpieces crowbarred in to make it more appropriate for a typical Carrey vehicle. The script was ostensibly by Lou Holtz Jr, his sole credit, but there were rumours that future comedy hitmaker and producer on this Judd Apatow had written most of it, or at least had refashioned it. This means the star throws himself into the role as only he can, but as the Cable Guy - whose name he claims is Chip Douglas - is supposed to be an encroaching menace in Steven's life a lot of people were unsure of how funny he was.
The Cable Guy certainly has a host of pop cultural references to fall back on as he makes up his mind to be Steven's new best friend, much to his bafflement, and so for the first half he's simply an irritant that Steven is too kindhearted, or polite, to ask to leave. The relationship is not totally one-sided, as one man gets his cable and advice on how to get back Robin, and the other gets to counter his loneliness, but the Cable Guy is plainly getting more out of it than he is. What this is saying about the way television has taken over our lives is muddled, as we see Carrey's character has turned to the goggle box to assuage his isolation, yet we're also meant to take him as the embodiment of a medium that refuses to be ignored.
Some of this is amusing enough, as when Steven agrees to go to a medieval mock up event/restaurant and the two of them act out the famous fight between Kirk and Spock from that episode of Star Trek, only the Cable Guy is taking it far too seriously ("Goodbye, Jim!"). And when he becomes sinister, insinuating himself into Steven's life by making friends with Robin and his family (the game of "Porno Password" Steven is bullied into playing with his mother (Diane Baker) is a highlight), the tone takes a thriller turn. However, the film is torn between its satire of modern living and its need to let Carrey loose with the physical humour and funny voices (he adopts a lisp throughout) which looks as if the film would have been more effective if recast. Viewing television as a black hole of need that demands attention while offering shallow but addictive rewards is a decent idea, but the film relies on it for most of its comedy, too, which appears hypocritical from talent who owe their careers to it. Music by John Ottman.