Friday, February 24, 2012
MOVIE REVIEW: THE JERK
The film begins with Navin R. Johnson (Steve Martin), a homeless bum, directly addressing the camera and telling his story. He is the adopted white son of African American sharecroppers, who grows to adulthood naïvely unaware of his obvious adoption. He stands out in his family not just because of his skin color, but also because of his utter lack of rhythm when his adopted family plays spirited blues music. One night, he hears the staid and starchy Roger Wolfe Kahn Orchestra song called "Crazy Rhythm" on the radio and his feet spontaneously begin to move with the urge to dance; he sees this as a calling and decides to hitchhike to St. Louis, from where the song was broadcast.
Navin gets a job (and a place to sleep) at a gas station owned by Mr. Harry Hartounian (Jackie Mason). He's thrilled to find that he's listed in the local phone book, as his name is "in print" for the first time. Not long after, a gun-wielding lunatic (M. Emmet Walsh) randomly flips through the phone book and picks "Johnson, Navin R." as his next victim. As the madman watches through his rifle scope, waiting for a clear shot, Navin fixes the slippery glasses of a customer, Stan Fox (Bill Macy), by adding a handle and a nose brake. Fox offers to split the profits 50/50 with Navin if he can market the invention, then departs. Seizing his chance, the crazed sniper tries to kill Navin, but fails, hitting the oil cans in the station window and a soft-drink machine. The lunatic chases Navin to a traveling carnival, where Navin hides out, eventually getting a job with SJM Fiesta Shows as a weight guesser. While employed there, Navin meets an intimidating daredevil biker named Patty Bernstein (Catlin Adams) and has a sexual relationship with her, finally realizing what his "special purpose" (his euphemism for his penis) is for. He then meets a woman named Marie (Bernadette Peters) and arranges a date with her. Patty confronts them, but Marie knocks her out. While courting, Navin and Marie walk along the beach and sing "Tonight You Belong to Me", with Navin playing the ukulele and Marie on the cornet. Navin and Marie fall in love, but Marie reluctantly decides to leave him because of his lack of financial security. She writes a note and slips out while Navin is in the bath.
At an emotional and financial low, Navin is soon contacted by Stan Fox with exciting news: His glasses invention, now called the Opti-Grab, is selling big and he's entitled to half of the profits. Now extremely rich, he finds and marries Marie, and they buy an extravagant mansion. Their life becomes one of splendour and non-stop partying. However, motion-picture director Carl Reiner (playing himself) files a class action lawsuit against Navin, claiming that the invention caused his eyes to be crossed and as a result, the death of a stunt driver in the film he was making. Nearly ten million other people have the same complaint (including the judge and prosecution), and are awarded $10 million in damages. Bankrupt, depressed, and now homeless, he abandons Marie and is soon living on the streets. His story now told, he resigns himself to a life of misery and memories of Marie. But to his amazed joy, she suddenly appears, along with Navin's family, and some more good news: Having carefully invested the small sums of money he sent home throughout the film, they've become wealthy themselves. They pick him up off the street, and he and Marie move back home into the Johnsons' new house - a much larger but identical version of their old, small shack.
The story ends with the entire family dancing on the porch and singing "Pick a Bale of Cotton", with Navin dancing along now having gained perfect rhythm. A box office hit earning over $73 million (making the movie the 9th highest-grossing of 1979), The Jerk has been praised as not only one of Steve Martin's best comedic efforts, but also one of the funniest of all motion pictures. The movie could not have been made in 1942 nor could it be made today in 2012. In my opinion, the movie is about as perfect as it could be...
MY RATING: 10 OUT OF 10