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The Jerk: 26th Anniversary DVD Review

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Some comedies, regardless of how classic they are, certain people just don’t “get.” The Jerk is one of those movies. It has nothing to do with Steve Martin, who is (as always) in top form. It has nothing to with director Carl Reiner whom despite some odd project choices is also capable of brilliant comedy. It’s just not funny, and all the talent in the world doesn’t change that.

It’s a decent idea, letting Martin be a poor white man raised by a black family. He decides to see the world, even though he is oblivious to the rest of the world. That’s a premise that can carry any comedy, just not this one. The movie just makes absurd turn after absurd turn.

That’s not to say things here remain boring. His fight (unbeknownst to Martin’s character for a time) against a murderous madman (M. Emmet Walsh) is hysterical. Actually, the entire time he’s in the gas station working as an attendant, it’s non-stop laughs. That’s when the film begins to draw you in.

There’s no real reason why anything happens in this movie though. It’s not particularly obvious why he’s so slow, when the family that raised him – although poor – seems perfectly fine and intelligent. His girlfriend leaves him for no apparent reason, and we never do learn why.

It doesn’t take long before he unfortunately moves on from that and just begins to descend into a movie lacking any sort of logic too. Sure, it’s easy to buy that he doesn’t know anything about the outside world. What doesn’t make sense is that he can take down a group of people who insult him (he’s suddenly a black belt), and can buy an entire Beverly Hills Estate (without any financial knowledge). He must not be as stupid as the script makes him out to be, and that’s the purpose of the movie.

The film didn’t need to go this route. It was doing just fine as a clueless guy adjusts to the real world. It’s a complete change, and one that ruins the entire experience. (** out of *****)

This is the second round for The Jerk on DVD. The first edition was full frame with nothing extra to offer. The same can be said for this disc, but at least it’s now presented in widescreen. The transfer itself is excellent, featuring sharp color, little grain, and even less compression. Fine detail can be spotty scene to scene. Black levels are excellent and create the necessary contrast during those darker sequences. The print shows little damage. (****)

Upgraded from mono, this new discs 5.1 mix is wasted. There are really no opportunities to use it in the first place. Just a nice stereo mix would have been sufficient, and that’s just what this sounds like. Dialogue is a little washed out with a small hiss running under it all. There’s nothing for the rear channels or subwoofer to use. (**)

That’s apparently what Universal wants to sell this disc on, because the extra features here are a borderline rip-off. Ever want to learn how to play “Tonight You Belong to Me” on a Ukulele? You can step-by-step.

The other feature (besides the production notes which are the only thing even remotely informative here along with the trailer), is the Lost Filmstrips of Father Carlos Las Vegas De Cordova. This isn’t an extended scene, but shot just for this disc, without any of the humor the scene contained in the film (or Steve Martin for that matter). There were scenes shot for the edited TV version, they’re just not included here. Those will obviously be in the 27th Anniversary edition. (No stars)

Even if you hate this movie, you can probably see why it’s considered a classic. There are some great quotes (“He really hates these cans!”) and memorable moments, just none of these occur towards the end. It becomes desperate for laughs, almost as much as the made-for-TV sequel in 1984 (almost).

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for His current passion project is the technically minded You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.
  • Phillip Winn

    I was confused by the reference to “the latter” when I hadn’t seen two contrasted options, but I do realize that some people just don’t “get” The Jerk. Their loss, is what I think.

    I’m glad this is finally widescreen.

  • Matt Paprocki

    Ah, I had the idea as far as where I was going with that line, but I guess it didn’t surface when I typed it. Thanks for picking it out.

  • Phillip Winn

    Man, I just clicked through to Amazon. For that price ($13.99 as I checked it just now), I think I’m buying it.

  • El Bicho

    Wow, you should stop reviewing all comedies from this decade. There is obviously something missing from DNA that doesn’t allow you to enjoy these classics. What are you going to blast next: “Smokey and the Bandit” or “Young Frankenstein”?

    And for clarification, it’s your post that has the factual error.

    “Tonight You Belong To Me” (Words & Music by Billy Rose & Lee David) was performed by Gene Austin in 1927 before being recorded by Patience & Prudence in 1956.

    Janet Kelly (Ukulele Girl) performs these songs for a living. You should have trusted her.

  • Matt Paprocki

    See, it can’t be the era El. Blazing Saddles and Animal House remain my favorite comedies of all time. That just can’t be it. I don’t know what I don’t see.

    Young Frankenstein… ugh. I probably should watch it again now that I have a fondness for Universal’s Frankie flicks. When I watched it as a kid, I had never seen them. Most of the comedy was probably lost on me too.

    As for the song, I’ll switch it out, but there should be some mention of the 50s version in there.

  • El Bicho

    Hmm, we’ve got to try and isolate the problem if we are ever going to find a cure.

    How about “Meatballs” or any of Woody’s comedies or “MP and the Holy Grail.”

  • Matt Paprocki

    Love the Holy Grail. Probably would put it up there. Life of Brian too. However, I find their other stuff, like Flying Cirucs, to be unbearable. I’m not big on sketch comedy.

    Can’t say I’ve ever seen Meatballs. I may have, but if I did, I don’t remember it. I may have to though. A lot of Ghostbusters crew involved there.

    Looking over Allen’s list on IMDB, and nothing is coming to mind. I’ve seen some of the stuff he’s been in, but not directed or written.

    Now, most of Mel Brooks work, that’s gold. Spaceballs, Men in Tights, History of the World, etc.

    I also have that fondness for Airplane!, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, and lots of slapsticks and parodies (UHF).