Saturday, 10 July 2010

No.42 : The Jerk

‘The Jerk’ is probably Steve Martin’s best film along with ‘The Man With Two Brains’ - “They aren’t assholes, it’s pronounced azaleas”. People will tell you that ‘Three Amigos!’ is good and the sentimental among you will always pipe up for ‘Trains Planes and Automobiles’ but to my mind Martin’s career has been on a more or less downward trajectory since the Navin R. Johnson bio-pic.

The film from 1979 sees Martin play what became his trademark wacky and a bit dumb character. His later attempts at straight acting in stuff like ‘Shop Girl’ serve only to remind you how he’s so much better when wandering around with a chair with his trousers at his ankles.

‘The Jerk’ ,which is a pretty poor title by the way but I imagine Dostoevsky had copyrighted ‘The Idiot’, sees a young white boy grow up with a dirt poor family in Mississippi. We aren’t told how he got there but as he nears maturity he begins to realise that he doesn’t quite fit in. After getting advice of variable worth from his family he sets out into the world to find his destiny.

He soon finds work and lodgings at Jackie Mason’s gas station but has to run away with the carnival when he attracts the attention of a gun toting loony who happens across Navin’s phone book entry. At the carnival he finds employment as a weight guesser and as the latest squeeze of the motorcycle stunt lady. She shows him his ’special purpose’ and soon his name is on her ass “right under the N’s’ . The tawdry relationship soon falls by the wayside when he meets the sexy Bernadette Peters who despite loving him leaves for a better life.

Distraught at his loss Navin soon finds his fortune in a glasses handle and with his wealth he buys a tacky house complete with a disco room full of friends and wins back his girl. Alas his fortune is soon lost and Navin is back on the street with only his thermos for company. Can it all come good for the lovable loser?

This is a relentlessly funny film that’s a bit shy on plot but big on laughs. Every scene is bursting at the edges with the number of gags shoved in, mostly revolving around Navin’s naivety and stupidity.

The cast is excellent with everyone note perfect from the serial killer turned private eye to the eccentric shit seller who turns the Opti-Grab into the quickest money spinner and loser in history. Peters is a stand out on two fronts - singing and acting. And her tits. She wears a sequence of sexy outfits and deadpans some great scenes as Martin licks her face and the like.

The film is a bit short and as I mentioned the plot - stupid guy gets rich and then poor while winning his girl - can be reduced to a line in the middle of a sentence like that one there. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to leave you wanting more - no one came out of ‘Date Movie’ wanting another half hour!

Unlike less esteemed critics I’ve not listed endless jokes from the film in the belief that it’ll make me seem witty and clever and you really have to see it to understand how funny and crazy it is. OK then just a couple of punch lines ‘Navin R Johnston - sounds like a real bastard’ ‘He’s really got it in for these cans’ and ‘I couldn’t have afforded this place anyway’.

THE Tag Line - Don’t Be Stupid - See ‘The Jerk’ 80%

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