The Jerk (1979)


The Jerk is the story of Navin R. Johnson. Born a poor black kid, he hears muzak for the first time and discovers his rhythm and sets out to find his “special purpose”.

Some younger movie-goers may not be aware of this, but Steve Martin actually used to be funny. This is one of his early films and as such is far more concerned with random silliness and slapstick than the saccharine-soaked sentimentality that became his trademark. I loved this film when I was younger but inevitably upon revisiting it, it wasn’t quite as funny as I remembered. I think the problem is that the Zucker/Abrams franchise behemoth has long since milked this particular brand of humour dry, so it all looks far more everyday and run-of-the-mill than it used to. But it’s still got plenty of laugh out loud moments, including funny turns from Jackie Mason (“he’s teaching me to be impatient”) and M. Emmett Walsh as a psychotic lone gunman, as well as plenty of visual gags and one liners – the cat juggler in particular is straight out of a Monty Python sketch.

Maybe not the work of genius that I remembered it to be, but The Jerk is still far better than anything Martin has done in the past three decades.



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