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USA 1979
Directed by
Carl Reiner
94 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

The Jerk

Steve Martin’s first film which he also co-wrote is a genially absurdist story of the misadventures of a mentally-challenged white guy, Navin R. Johnson (Martin), who has grown up thinking that he was the natural son of poor black Mississippi sharecroppers. He decides to head out into the big wide world and seek his fortune, which he finds, only to lose it.

Compared to Forrest Gump (1994) with which it shares certain thematic similarities, The Jerk is a rough-and-ready affair but that is its charm. The first half of the film, which stylistically recalls Woody Allen’s early faux-documentary efforts such as Bananas, succeeds in amusing but once Navin’s fortune turns, the script and Martin’s performance, which relies more on his aptitude for physical comedy more than wit lose their focus and the film becomes quite perfunctory in execution and the gags less effective, ending with a bit of a squib.

FYI: Martin and co-star Bernadette Peters would appear again in the much superior black comedy Pennies From Heaven (1981) whilst Martin would collaborate again with Carl Reiner on a series of so-so comedies, the best of them being the retro-crime thriller spoof, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982), which was followed by The Man With Two Brains (1983) and All Of Me (1984).




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