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Carl Reiner
Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, Catlin Adams, Mabel King, Richard Ward, Dick Anthony Williams, Bill Macy
Writing Credits:
Steve Martin, Carl Gottlieb, Michael Elias

A rags to riches to rags story.

Navin Johnson (Steve Martin) might just be the stupidest man alive. Example: He's a white guy raised by a black family, and has no idea he's adopted. But somehow, over the course of his life, a series of crazy inventions make him rich, and lead him to fall in love with a beautiful motorcycle racer.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$5.935 million on 525 screens.
Domestic Gross
$73.691 million.

Rated R

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Monaural
French Monaural

Runtime: 94 min.
Price: $24.98
Release Date: 4/28/1998

• Trailer
• Production Notes
• Cast and Crew Biographies


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The Jerk (1979)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 1, 2005)

Funny how time can change perceptions. As I twelve-year-old who loved Steve Martin, I was really excited when The Jerk came out theatrically in 1979. I didn't see it then; although my Dad took me to "R"-rated films back then, he didn't want to see it, so that was that. I ended up not feeling too disappointed because the film received so many negative reviews. As I recall, most critics slammed it, and it didn't do very well at the box office.

Fast forward more than 25 years and it seems that the "common knowledge" of The Jerk states that it's a comedy classic that was a huge hit. Hmm ... maybe I lived in some sort of alternate universe 1979, but I don't remember that happening. Or maybe my 12-year-old self wasn’t in tune with how it fared in the rest of the world, but my perception that the film disappointed financially and critically remains.

Frequently when I expect to dislike a movie, I end up thinking it's at least okay. That happened with a decent movie in Prince of Tides and a shockingly terrific film in Good Will Hunting. Even oft-slammed clunkers like Sphere don't seem to live down to their overwhelmingly negative hype.

Years ago, I went into my first screening of The Jerk with low expectations, and it lived down to them. Over subsequent seasons, I’ve tried to give it additional chances; at this point, I’d guess I’ve seen it at least four or five times. I like many of the folks involved with the project and feel like I should enjoy the flick, so I persevere with new viewings every few years.

Despite all this, I have to say that I still find The Jerk to be a pretty lousy film. Maybe it's just me, but I simply didn't find much about it that actually qualified as either amusing or entertaining. It's just a big bore.

That's really the film's greatest fault: it's awfully boring. The movie only clocks in at 94 minutes but it feels much longer. There's very little plot involved and the vaguely connected series of gags just seems to drone on and on.

This wouldn't be so bad if the gags were better. After all, classics like Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and This Is Spinal Tap only offer merely the slightest of plots, but the situations involved are so funny that both movies work fantastically well. The Jerk, however, has little creativity or spark to it. I won't say that I didn't laugh, because occasionally something struck me as funny, but those peaks were few and far between. For the most part, I simply sat back and prayed for it to end.

Steve Martin's a tremendously talented actor and comic, but I think he simply tried too hard here. He clearly had a lot of pressure on him, and it's hard to live up to all the hype. He fulfilled all of his enormous promise in later endeavors, but The Jerk stands as a bomb.

The DVD Grades: Picture D+/ Audio C-/ Bonus D-

The Jerk appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Not only do we get the film in a transfer that lacks its original aspect ratio, but also it generally looks pretty terrible.

Sharpness varied. Much of the film seemed acceptably distinctive and well-defined, but more than a few exceptions occurred. Usually in wider shots, the movie could appear moderately vague and fuzzy. Some minor issues with jagged edges and shimmering popped up, and I noticed light edge enhancement.

Colors also were erratic. While never eye-popping, they occasionally looked reasonably vivid and lively. However, many scenes demonstrated flat and bland tones, and the movie never balanced the two trends to earn any consistency. Blacks were somewhat loose and without great depth, while shadows tended to be a bit dull and dense.

The biggest problem stemmed from all the source defects. Most scenes suffered from excessive grain, specks, spots, scratches, grit and various marks. These varied from “not too bad” to “quite heavy” and created consistent distractions. All of this added up to a weak transfer that earned only a “D+”.

The monaural soundtrack of The Jerk lacked such obvious problems but seemed decidedly bland. Speech tended to vary in quality from reasonably natural to fairly flat and dull. The remainder of the audio stuck with that latter attribute; both the music and effects sounded listless. No problems with distortion occurred, but the audio lacked any semblance of life. I don’t expect audio from 1979 to blow me away, but I’d like to hear something with more definition and dimensionality. This was a resolutely tepid mix.

Rounding out the "Crappy DVD Trifecta" is the sparse collection of supplements included with The Jerk. It features a trailer, decent biographies of director Carl Reiner and three cast members, and some short production notes.

You probably don't have to be Nostradamus to figure out what my recommendation will be. The Jerk is a generally boring movie that's featured on a DVD marred by a flawed image, flat sound, and very few extras. I can’t recommend this weak product and dull film.

To rate this film, visit the 26th Anniversary Edition review of THE JERK