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Film / The Cable Guy

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"I can be your best friend, or your worst enemy. You seem to prefer the latter."
Chip Douglas

The Cable Guy is a 1996 Black Comedy film directed by Ben Stiller, written by Judd Apatow, and starring Jim Carrey, Matthew Broderick and Apatow's future wife Leslie Mann.

After his girlfriend Robin (Mann) flips out and gives him the boot, Steven Kovacs (Broderick) gets the very last thing he needed to fill the void in his life: an incredibly bizarre cable installer named Chip Douglas (Carrey) who latches on and insinuates himself into Steven's life. To his credit, Chip does lots of favors for Steven, up to and including helping him win back Robin, but his odd, off-putting and sometimes illicit behavior (including getting him an overelaborate entertainment system via "connections"... which ends up being stolen, and later buying Steven a prostitute and then making it up to him by beating the crap out of Robin's date) proves too much to take and Steven eventually has to tell him to take a hike. Things quickly turn sour after that, and Steven finds out just how weird his "pal" really is when Chip begins stalking him and pulling various strings to try and ruin his life.

Much of the pre-release hype around the film was Carrey's $20 million(!) payday for his role...and then the hype soured as the Black Comedy surprised many critics and audiences, compared to his lighter star-making roles of the previous two years. The resultant backlash meant that it would be, and still is, incorrectly remembered as Carrey's first flop as an A-lister. While it wasn't the home run the studio was likely expecting, it did make back its budget — after worldwide receipts were added in it grossed over $100 million. And it's also picked up something of a following.

Has nothing to do with Larry the Cable Guy.

Tropes included:

  • Antagonist Title: Chip is the titular Cable Guy.
  • Anti-Villain: Chip is a creepy obsessive stalker, but only because he's really lonely.
  • Artistic License – Geography: Chip takes Steven to a Medieval Times restaurant. The film takes place in Seattle, Washington, where there are no Medieval Times restaurants. (The movie was shot in California, with the Medieval Times restaurant shot there being located in Buena Park.)
  • Ax-Crazy: Chip Douglas. The beatdown he gives Robin's date and his "role-playing" on the Medieval Times display his most violent side, and is first shown when he starts tackling other players at the basketball game.
  • Bathroom Brawl: Chip beats up Robin's date in the men's room of a restaurant.
  • Battle in the Rain: The climax on the satellite dish.
  • Being Evil Sucks: Chip implies that he feels this.
    Steven: You don't have to do this! We all get lonely!
    Chip: Yeah. But I get really lonely. I mean, look at me, come on!
  • Blackmail: Chip gets a prostitute for Steven at the party, while Steven and Robin are on a break. Chip takes pictures of their encounter, and uses it as leverage to attend a dinner party with Steven's family.
    Steven: I should just take you to the police right now!
    Chip: You can if you'd like. [produces Polaroid of Steven and "Heather"] But I'd hate to have to show Robin this.
    Steven: Bastard!
  • Celebrity Paradox: Chip makes a reference to Waterworld, which Jack Black had a cameo in.
  • Character Name Alias: His name isn't really Chip Douglas. Or Larry Tate. Or Ricky Ricardo. Or George Jetson. Or even The Big Ragu. The credits simply call him The Cable Guy.
  • The Charmer: Chip Douglas is this to pretty much everyone around Steven, by using some goofy lines and a little smooth-talking, on top of giving free cable to the right people. Steven knows Chip's just doing this to get control of his life, and he's helpless to watch.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A few of them, to establish what kind of control the cable guy has. Such as one of the guys at Chip and Steven's party turning out to be a cop. The cruelest one, however, is when Steven has Robin over to watch Sleepless in Seattle. Before the movie starts, he blows off some steam by trash-talking his boss. Turns out Chip recorded the conversation, and after Steven punches him at his family's party, he gets revenge by playing the conversation on all the computers where he works, which gets him swiftly fired.
  • Climbing Climax: The climax occurs on the scaffolding surrounding the massive satellite dish Chip takes Steven to earlier in the movie. Lampshaded to hell and back by Chip as a very good place for a "final battle" to occur.
  • Cringe Comedy: Chip getting Steven and his family to play Porno Password. The family thinks it's all in good fun, while Steven looks like he'd rather be back in prison.
  • Damsel in Distress: Robin is kidnapped and held hostage by Chip in the climax to force a confrontation with Steven.
  • Deconstructive Parody: Carrey gives much the same performance as he did in the Ace Ventura movies — larger-than-life, constantly dropping pop culture references, etc. — but the more realistic setting shows just how weird and creepy normal people would find such a person in real life, how that person could have turned out that way in the first place, and how unstable and dangerous such a Trickster could be. At the same time, it doesn't keep him from being funny, it's just in an unnerving Black Comedy way.
  • Dirty Cop: The cops who arrest Steven are the same Chip's "preferred customers" from the karaoke party, implying that they were in on Chip's plan of framing Steven.
  • Disappeared Dad: Chip was raised by a neglectful mother alone (well, mostly by the TV), and his father never appears in the flashbacks we see. Given what we've seen, his mother was pretty promiscuous, and possibly isn't aware of who it even was.
  • Disney Villain Death: Averted. Chip lets himself drop, hoping he will get impaled on the antenna's tip, but misses. His reaction to that is along the lines of "Dammit, I pulled an Epic Fail!".
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: For a guy who claims to be "really lonely" Chip has many, many people at his beck and call, yet he fixates on the one guy who empathically doesn't want to be friends with him. On the other hand, he might see them as shallow people who only put up with/help him because he hooks them up with free cable (as a lyric in "Somebody to Love" puts it, "And your friends, baby/They treat you like a guest"), which would be an aversion of this trope.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Not even Chip likes that Sam Sweet committed Sibling Murder:
    Chip Douglas: (watching the news on Sam Sweet, dead serious) I hope they fry this bastard.
  • Former Child Star: The Sweet twins. The backstory to the trial shows that neither Sweet sibling ended in a good place mentally after they grew up, with one joining a cult and the other becoming a drug addicted criminal.
  • Freddie Mercopy: When Chip confronts Robin's date, his disguise is strikingly similar to Mercury's '80s look, even more so in the composite drawing released to the news media. It's even pointed out in the DVD Commentary.
  • Freudian Excuse: Chip's mother was so neglectful that he was practically raised by television.
    Chip: I learned the facts of life...from watching The Facts of Life!
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: Loneliness has not been good for Chip's emotional well-being.
  • Heel Realization: At the film's climax, Chip argues with his dead mother. He comes to the conclusion that lack of human interaction has turned him into a maladjusted lunatic, but there is still time to keep the rest of the world from ending up as he did. He throws himself onto a powerful satellite dish, which cuts off everyone's cable and forces them to read books.
  • Here We Go Again!: In the very last scene of the film, Chip reacts to the paramedic going alongside him in the back of the transport doing the typical knee-jerk "hang in there, buddy" pep talk most medical technicians do to patients by looking at him very eagerly and asking: "Hey, am I really your buddy?"
  • Hypocritical Humor: In the Medieval Times scene.
    Steven: Can I get a knife?
    Melinda: There were no utensils in medieval times, hence there are no utensils at Medieval Times. Now, would you like a refill on that Pepsi?
    Melinda: Dude, I've got a lot of tables.
  • I Have Your Wife: Chip calls Steven to tell him he's "paying Robin a visit", cue Steven rushing to Robin's apartment to find it that Chip has kidnapped her.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Chip decides he's going to free the town from the grip of TV by jumping into the satellite dish and impaling himself on the central antenna. Subverted in that he misses the antenna and lands right next to it, survives the fall, and is disappointed when he sees the antenna next to him.
  • Karaoke Bonding Scene: Chip Douglas goes all-out at karaoke with a rendition of "Somebody to Love" to try and impress his new "friend" and client Steven.
  • Large Ham: Chip, and it only makes sense - spending his whole life constantly watching TV and movies, instead of forming any real friendships, has warped his worldview so much that it's become his only frame of reference for how to behave. Of course, such a character is all the more justification for Jim Carrey to blow poor Matthew Broderick off the screen for most of the movie.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In addition to referencing the climax's similarity to GoldenEye (see Made of Iron, below), Chip has the odd habit of humming musical scores as if he were in a movie, illustrating his loose grip on reality. The score in the background likes to go along with it.
    Chip: You know, the trouble with real life is, there's no danger music! Dada da dum...
  • Logo Joke: The Columbia Pictures logo at the movie's beginning goes into static from Steven's cable TV.
  • Loony Friends Improve Your Personality: This is deconstructed here. Early on, Chip helps Steven loosen up more by taking him to Medieval Times and throwing a karaoke party. Eventually, Steven learns that Chip isn't just wacky, he's downright dangerous and clingy.
  • Made of Iron: Chip, apparently, since he survives a drop over the tower above the satellite dish onto the dish itself, flipping twice in mid air and landing on his back, just inches away from the needle protruding from the dish. He does break his back, however, although the fall would likely kill or at least mortally cripple someone in real life. Oddly enough, this element seems like a parody of GoldenEye as well, as Janus/Alec Trevelyan didn't die from the fall, either.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Chip at the end realizes what a bad "friend" has been to Steven and apoligzes to him looking genuine remourseful.
  • New Media Are Evil: Played for Laughs. The movie doesn't outright say that television is evil, but it does take shots at the sensationalist trash programing it often boasts, not to mention the titular cable guy's mental instability being largely due to his inattentive mother just letting him watch TV all day as a kid. In the end, when everyone's cable goes out, one disappointed viewer happily picks up a book and starts reading it.
  • Old Media Are Evil: The film is crawling with paranoia about mass media, and its simultaneously invasive and alienating effects on people's lives.
  • One-Book Author: This is Lou Holtz Jr.'s only screenwriting credit, but his original script was heavily rewritten by Judd Apatow (who was denied credit by the Writer's Guild).
  • Parental Abandonment: Chip mentions that he never knew his father.
  • Reference Overdosed: Considering that one of the main characters is a guy whose profession is to install a source of entertainment, it's no surprise that there's an inordinate amount of TV show and movie name-dropping, but this one is unique in that it's actually a plot point.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The Sam Sweet trial was strongly based off of the O.J. Simpson trial and the Menendez brothers trial, namely the circus-like atmosphere of the media coverage of the cases.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The movie references several movies and shows, such as Waterworld and Star Trek. Even the aliases he uses are from TV shows like My Three Sons, I Love Lucy, and Bewitched.
    • During Steven's nightmare, when Chip breaks the door down, his eyes became green ala The Incredible Hulk.
    • While Chip is being the crap out of Robin's date in the bathroom, he shoves the guy's mouth onto a hand dryer and remarks as his cheeks puff up, "You look just like Dizzy Gillespie!", while the Gillespie classic "Salt Peanuts" is playing in the background.
  • Show Within a Show: Double Trouble, which has a looming presence throughout the movie, due to the closing trial of former child actor Sam Sweet for shooting his twin brother Stan. Also Brother, Sweet Brother, a "movie of the week" cashing in on the trial's media circus (and starring Eric Roberts as both Sweet brothers).
  • Stalker without a Crush: Chip Douglas. He just wants to be Steven's friend, and he will do anything (even putting Steven in jail and beating the crap out of someone dating Steven's girlfriend) to be that role.
  • Suddenly Shouting: Chip is sometimes prone to this.
    Chip: So I'm the tardy one?
    Steven: Yeah, I was gonna go to that bed and bath place and now it's closed.
    Chip: Well maybe I shouldn't have come at all, JERK-OFF! ...I'm just jokin' with ya.
  • Suspect Is Hatless: The Sam Sweet trial includes a recording of the 911 call he made right after the murder, where he repeatedly describes the shooter as "some kinda of... Asian".
  • Taught by Television: Chip wasn't just taught by TV, he was raised by it. Flashbacks show his own mother used to call their TV set "Mr. Babysitter" when she would ditch him to go to singles bars.
  • Themed Aliases: Chip uses the names of TV characters as aliases. This is one of the things that gives it away that's he's a maniac, as when Steven mentions he said his name is Ernie Douglas and he goes by "Chip", Rick recognizes the name as being familiar, but isn't sure, prompting him to investigate.
  • The Unreveal:
    • We never find out if Sam Sweet is found guilty.
    • Or the real name of the Cable Guy.
  • Window Love: When Chip visits Steven in prison, he pushes his bare chest on the glass, in an homage to Midnight Express.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Chip invites himself to a get-together with Steven's family and girlfriend Robin. Steven's frantic attempts to convince them that Chip is nuts paint him as paranoid and ungrateful, which is exactly what Chip wants. Finally, Steven punches Chip after he furtively insults Robin, which makes Steven look even worse.

"This concludes our broadcast day. Click."