The Jerk (1979)

the jerk

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: This is stupidly brilliant.

This is the type of film that looks like it was done by people that were stoned and meant for audiences that were equally stoned. The ‘story’ runs like it was conceived by someone who couldn’t come up with a real plot so they did this instead. The whole thing is as simple and mindless as the character it depicts with no real correlation to anything. Everything is thrown in haphazardly and at times looks like nothing but a very desperate and strained attempt for a laugh. This is coupled by a performance by Steve Martin that is very one-dimensional and even amateurish. He behaves like one of those annoying class clowns looking for attention and yet despite all this it still manages to be funny sometimes really, really funny.

This is a definite precursor to Dumb and Dumber and others like it and in many ways this is still the best as it completely stretches the stupidity axiom. It tests the audience’s perceptions on what is tolerable and logical. This doesn’t just have a couple of guys who are weird everybody and everything is weird. The humor works totally outside of the box. It gets you to laugh at things you didn’t think you would and also gets you to see things differently. It creates a warped world that for the first hour is consistent and fun, but by the second hour it begins to struggle and ultimately overreaches.

Martin’s ‘air head’ routine doesn’t seem too original since he had been using it previously in his stand-up acts and comedy guest stints. His character is too dumb and naive to be believable and there is never any explanation for it. He manages to give his performance a certain endearing quality, which is the only thing that saves it. The opening segment has him growing up a white boy amongst a poor black family, which borders dangerously close to being racist and stereotypical.

There is a good supporting cast, but they seem wasted and many of them only have a few lines. Bernadette Peters, as his love interest, really doesn’t add much however Jackie Mason is pretty good as Martin’s boss at a gas station. Maurice Evans is also fun as Martin’s butler and has an amusing way of responding to his wife’s sudden death. Rob Reiner, the director’s son, appears in a cameo as a truck driver who gives Martin a lift ‘up to the end of the fence.’

Overall this is pretty goofy stuff, but only for those who are in the right frame of mind for it. It’s a simple, scattershot formula that produces some genuine laughs.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, HDDVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

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