Ben Stiller (director of Reality Bites) is presently basking in the warm reception given to his performance in Flirting with Disaster, but the actor had less luck when he tried his hand at directing Jim Carrey (above) in The Cable Guy (12) Columbia/ TriStar, 19 Feb. The film was an expensive failure, partly due to its crude critique of TV culture (the idea that evil cathode rays sap the brain is hardly a new one), but largely due to the fact that it tipped Carrey's manic persona into gurning psychosis. For fans of the comic book silliness of Ace Ventura, Carrey's performance as a sociopathic TV repair man, aggressively intent on befriending yuppie Matthew Broderick, was disturbing to say the least. But it's possible that this might prove to be Carrey's most compelling role to date. The Cable Guy takes the elastic insincerity of the star's established persona and pushes it into horror. The ingratiating insistence on being liked, and the icy misanthropy and self-hatred which accompany this need, have all characterised Carrey's "straight" comic performances in the past, lending him a slightly inhuman and unlikeable air. Here, they're brilliantly allowed free reign and rise to the surface to create a black comedy of real menace.
Less chilling altogether is Eye For An Eye (18) CIC, 21 Feb, starring Sally Field in a familiar role as mousy victim turned aggressor, this time as a woman who hunts down her daughter's killer when the law fails to come up with the requisite punishment. Directed by John Schlesinger, it's an offensive, exploitative, response to Dead Man Walking, with none of that film's humanity or intelligence. Demonising the killer, its premise seems to be along the lines of John Major's "We must understand a little less and condemn a little more". Formulaic, sensationalist entertainment directed with deft skill.
The pick of the retail releases this week is Ed Burns's The Brothers McMullen (15) Fox, pounds 12.99, 17 Feb, a low-budget meditation on love, marriage and male bonding, which despite looking uncannily like a Budweiser ad, has some sweet comic moments. There's also the wide-screen release of Scorsese's coruscating GoodFellas (18) Warner, pounds 12.99, Feb 17, which means you can relish Ray Liotta's coke-fuelled paranoia in all its lurid glory.