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Dumb or Ace Career Move for Carrey?

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

To stretch or not to stretch--that is the question for Jim Carrey, actor. But the answer might not be what he wants to hear.

With monstrous competition arriving this weekend, Carrey’s shift from wacky comedy to the more sinister variety displayed in “The Cable Guy” appears to be faltering among fans and, insiders say, testing the confidence of studio executives with upcoming projects banking on the star.

The dark comedy, for which Carrey received the watershed upfront fee of $20 million, showed daily declines at the box office early in the week while holdovers such as “Mission: Impossible” and “Twister” registered gains. With Disney’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Eraser” hogging multiplexes and publicity beginning today, executives on upcoming Carrey films at Universal and Paramount express confidence in the star.

In “Liar, Liar,” tentatively planned for a December release, Carrey--who again received a $20-million fee--plays a divorce lawyer whose entire life has been one big lie. When he makes a pact with his son not to tell a single lie for an entire day, his life unravels.

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Once Universal executives and the film’s producer, Imagine Entertainment, saw box-office slippage on “Cable Guy,” sources say, revisions were ordered up on the “Liar, Liar” script. The push reportedly was to shape it more as a typical slapstick Carrey comedy.

But Brian Grazer, a partner in Imagine Entertainment, said this is untrue. “This film has always been more of a ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ or ‘Big.’ We’re not changing the script because of how ‘Cable Guy’ is or is not performing. ‘Liar, Liar’ is a funny movie but it has an emotional theme to it. If it got any broader as a comedy, it would be a cartoon.”

Ironically, the big lie is also the premise behind Paramount’s drama “The Truman Show.” Carrey’s Gumpesque character learns that his life has all been part of a TV show. The script has been described as a “Network” for the ‘90s.

“This is a far more serious role than anything Carrey has ever done and everyone around here is very nervous whether Carrey can pull it off,” a top Paramount source said. “Even with one of the best directors in the business at the helm [Peter Weir], people are beginning to ask whether Carrey has the range of Robin Williams, a comedic star who was able to make that shift from slapstick to soft drama. If the audience reacts like it did to a slight alteration in the Carrey norm with ‘Cable Guy,’ the question is how will it react to a bigger switch in a role like this?”

It should be noted that Carrey’s usual $20-million salary was clipped to $12 million, since the dramatic part is a deviation from the roles he usually plays.

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“It is absolutely ludicrous for people to say we are worried about Jim in ‘The Truman Show,’ ” said John Goldwyn, president of Paramount’s motion picture group. “We consider ourselves unbelievably fortunate to have a premier talent like Jim and an incredible filmmaker like Peter Weir in this picture. We know both will do a fabulous job in this film. These rumors circulating couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Added “Cable Guy” producer Andy Licht: “When Schwarzenegger and Stallone did their comedy bit, it was a 180-degree turn from the action movies they normally do and that’s why they didn’t work. Jim made a 45-degree turn with this picture and he’ll probably make another 45-degree turn with the next two. I think Jim feels that if he continues to do the same kind of movies over and over people will become tired of him. In ‘Cable Guy’ he may be skewing to a bit older audience but it’s the same Jim Carrey up there on the screen.”

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Still, “Cable Guy” slipped slightly at the box office early this week while its biggest competitors--all of which have been in the marketplace longer--went up. Comparing Tuesday’s nationwide box-office take to Monday’s, “Cable Guy” slid to $2.9 million from $3.07 million, while “Mission: Impossible” jumped to $1.37 million from $1.1 million, “The Rock” rose to $2.77 million from $2.54 million and “Twister” took in $1.25 million against $1.01 million.

A poll of some of Carrey’s audience who recently plunked down their $7.50 to see “The Cable Guy” had this to say about his picture:

“It wasn’t funny,” said Scott Michaels of Los Angeles. “I was expecting him to be his wacky self and it was just way too serious. I think I laughed maybe twice during the whole thing and I like Jim Carrey. I thought it was going to be a light comedy and it ended up being a sick compulsion.”

For Ray Fakhouri of San Bernardino, “The movie creates an awareness for parents not to let their kids spend much time in front of the TV and let the tube be their parent. It was dark.”

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On a scale of 10, Michael Peter of Los Angeles gave the film a “6. It had a few funny lines. ‘Dumb & Dumber’ had a million more laughs. It just wasn’t great . . . good . . . OK maybe, but I just kept expecting a bunch more laughs . . . more gags. What else could I say?”

“The Cable Guy” had a strong opening last Friday, but began to slide on Saturday, while “The Rock” gained. Columbia said Sunday that Friday night is typically a better night for the film’s targeted audiences, young males ages to 12 and 21. The studio was expecting results to improve this week, as the schools that didn’t close for summer last week finally shut down. And Columbia is banking on a second weekend being stronger than the first, a pattern typical of some of Carrey’s past movies.

“Cable Guy” had an opening weekend of $19.8 million, a large figure, to be sure, but less than the opening weekends for such Carrey hits as “The Mask” and “Ace Ventura 2: When Nature Calls.”

While Columbia says it was happy with the results, one rival studio source said Carrey has fallen into the trap of thinking he’s bigger than his audience.

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“Carrey has been doing a lot of interviews lately saying he’s capable of doing so much more than his usual thing, that he’s ready to grow and expand. Well, he’s like Sharon Stone, Kevin Costner and all of the rest of these stars who do that. They just don’t get it,” the executive said. “The audience will tell you when you can expand. You don’t tell the audience, ‘I’m expanding.’ Stars like Carrey have their agents and the rest of their little support group telling them they can do anything. But it’s only what the audience says that counts.”

Times staff writer Cheo Hodari Coker contributed to this story.


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