Thursday, May 03, 2007

Classic Movie Review: "The Jerk"

The Jerk (1979) is a classic comedy film. Steve Martin plays a bumbling man who was raised a poor black child. He is naive to the world when he finally sets out, but the world palys along with the naivity. Martin meets some interesting characters along his journey, makes some money, loses some money, but ends up with a happy ending. As in most comedies, the plot isn't what is important. The gags that surround the plot are!

And what gags they are! The movie never goes for the traditional set up-punchline dynamic. Rather the laughs come from Martin's reactions and reading of the dialogue. Martin puts such glee in some of the absurd lines that make it hard to resist laughing. As a sniper tries to kill Martin but only hits some nearby cans, Martin first thinks the cans are defective, then he thinks the sniper is trying to destroy the cans. Martin's panic as he runs around trying to find cover away from the various cans that surround him is played perfectly. As Martin goes through various jobs, always keeping his childlike wonderment at the world, the hilarity only builds.

There are other fine performances in the movie besides Martin's. Jackie Mason plays Martin's first boss with his usual snese of humor. Mason is basically doing his act in the movie, but it doesn't detract from it. Bernadette Peters plays Martin's love interest with the right mix of innocence and world-weariness. She is the perfect foil to Martin's Navin.

It is no surprise that a movie written by Steve Martin in his prime packs so many laughs. Martin is a creative genius and when he is on, he is on. Read his collection of short stories Pure Drivel to see what I mean. The jokes in this movie still stand up more than 25 years later. It is a definite must see for anyone who is a fan of old school comedies.

4 1/2 Opti-Grabs out of 5.

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