Goofy Comedian Dabbles On The Dark Side

FRIDAY, JUNE 14, 1996

Like everyone else in Hollywood, the producers of “The Cable Guy” expect the movie to open big today. Real big. With any luck at all, box-office receipts next weekend should more than cover Jim Carrey’s precedent-setting $20 million salary.

Despite the barbs of outraged critics, Carrey’s recent pictures - two “Ace Ventura” features, the aptly titled “Dumb and Dumber,” “The Mask” and “Batman Forever” - have delivered more than $600 million in domestic revenues alone.

Yet there remains a question of how Carrey’s fans will respond to the dark comedy in “Cable Guy.” If they don’t support it with positive word-of-mouth, it could disappear quicker than you can say “Showgirls.”

In the film, Carrey plays a lonely and deranged cable-TV installer who attaches himself to Steven Kovacs, a heartbroken young architect, played by Matthew Broderick. Kovacs’ illicit request for free premium services is interpreted, by the Cable Guy, as an invitation for friendship.

When his overtures are spurned, the Cable Guy - who soon becomes the Stalker Guy - finds several menacing ways to insinuate himself into the architect’s life. For instance, the Cable Guy surprises his would-be pal with an expensive house-warming gift (it’s stolen) and arranges a tryst (with a hooker) to ease the memory of the architect’s lost love. He also invites Kovacs to a feasting-and-jousting theme restaurant, during which they become the entertainment. The weirdness - and the darkness - escalates from there.

“I hope that everybody in the world likes everything I do, but that’s not reality and never will be,” said Carrey, uncharacteristically subdued after undergoing a full day of broadcast and print interviews. “I’m going to lose some people on this and gain some people, but that’s the way it’s got to go. If you play to the audience, you end up being some kind of shell.

Even though it was inevitable that Carrey’s act someday would leave the sophomore class, it wasn’t clear exactly how this promotion might manifest itself on the screen.”I’m not going to do ‘Hamlet,’ but I do want to tell stories,” said the 34-year-old Toronto native. “My favorite actors were guys like Jimmy Stewart, who went all over the place.

“You could laugh like hell with him, because he was so funny. At the same time, you cared about him so much that he could make you cry.”

Carrey will follow “The Cable Guy” with another $20 million comedy, “Liar, Liar,” and then a sequel to “The Mask.” However, he will put his loyalists to the test once again when he teams with director Peter Weir for the drama “The Truman Show,” about a man whose life becomes the fodder for a TV show.

While fully exploiting Carrey’s trademark physicality and impersonation skills - he remains the human equivalent of Silly Putty - “The Cable Guy” attempts to satirize the thriller genre through its use of television and motion-picture cliches. Here, the filmmakers are reaching out to an adult audience that might actually remember Alfred Hitchcock and, moreover, understand how troubling it is to have to deal with a cable company.

Not that Carrey has to assume many risks these days, given his new tax bracket. In fact, his biggest challenge likely will come in trying to please himself.

“The first thing you do is realize how ridiculous it all is and try to remind yourself that it’s still about the work,” he said. “You just constantly have to focus yourself on, you know, if this scene doesn’t work, that $20 million is going to bite me in the ass.”

Carrey’s salary has gone from under $1 million for the first “Ace Ventura” to the $7 million range for “Dumber” and “Batman Forever” to $20 million apiece for “The Cable Guy” and “Liar, Liar.”

“It’s the most fantastically exciting ride of my life and at the same time, people go through my garbage,” he quipped. “I’ve got to tell you, it really is strange. That’s what my monologue was about on ‘Saturday Night Live’: ‘Hi, I’m an alien, I’m not normal.’ The strangest thing is that everybody knows who you are, knows too much about you.”

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