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).