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The Jerk (1979)

The Jerk, a comedy that marked the big screen debut of Steve Martin, is a pretty funny film because of its complete absurdity. It doesn't seek to do anything beyond providing laughs by way of slapstick, and most of the time the jokes are funny, but for a film of this nature to completely succeed, "most of the time" is not enough.

Navin R. Johnson (Martin) grew up as a member of a black family in Mississippi, but after finding out that he was adopted, he decides he needs to get out and see the world. Navin makes his way to St. Louis, where he gets a job at a gas station, working for Harry Hartounian (Jackie Mason). Soon enough, Navin has to run from a madman sniper (M. Emmet Walsh) who has selected him at random as his victim.

Navin ends up as a weight-guesser at a carnival, where a tough motorcycle jumper named Patty (Catlin Adams), with a propensity for throwing her helmet at the nearest schlub, teaches him about what his mother told him was his "special purpose." Navin, however, falls in love with a young woman named Marie (Bernadette Peters), and together, the two of them become unlikely millionaires due to an invention called the Opti-Grab, which helps to keep one's glasses on his or her face, that Navin helped to create. Navin is about to learn that having money may be as much a curse as it is a blessing.

There are a good number of laugh-out-loud moments in The Jerk, most of which play on Navin's dim-witted nature. For instance, when the madman is firing at him haphazardly, Navin assumes he's not fond of cans since he's such a bad shot. Another one that made me chuckle pretty hard was when Marie pulls the trumpet out of nowhere to accompany Navin's ukelele. Then, of course, there is the name of Navin's dog, which is not fit to mention on a family-friendly web page, but gets a laugh every time Navin calls him.

Steve Martin's comedy, to me, is hit-or-miss. I am generally not fond of when he is allowed to go too far over the top, as he is for much of this movie. He is much more effective when there are reins to pull him in, such as his understated work in Father of the Bride, but here he is given room to be all over the place, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. Did I get plenty of laughs from The Jerk? Sure. Am I going to make a concerted effort to see it again any time soon? No, probably not.

Christopher Moyer
May 8, 2005

- Directed by Carl Reiner
- Written by Steve Martin, Carl Gottlieb, Michael Elias
- Produced by William E. McEuen, David V. Picker

Steve Martin - Navin R. Johnson
Bernadette Peters - Marie Kimble
Catlin Adams - Patty Bernstein
Mabel King - Mother
Richard Ward - Father
Bill Macy - Stan Fox
M. Emmet Walsh - Madman

- Genres: Comedy