The Jerk Carl Reiner

Fans of Will Farrell and Elf take note: in 1979, relative newcomer Steve Martin did it already with The Jerk. (How long ago? His hair was only salt and pepper grey.) This tale of an arrhythmic white boy raised by a black sharecropping family in Mississippi who naively makes his way in the world is entirely carried by Martin's manic, shouting and guileless performance as Nevin Johnson. His bumpkin good naturedness — more Babe: Pig in the City than Forrest Gump — is the geyser of the comedy: he naively gives free gas to gang bangers; he misunderstands any of the world's bitterness; and he has no idea what to do with love interest Bernadette Peters. Strictly speaking, Martin's Nevin is more schmuck than jerk. The cheap-ass "special edition" — albeit an improvement on the full screen 2002 release — is a little jerky though; a quarter-century later, we get ukulele lessons and outtakes from Father Carlos Las Vegas De Cordova (he of cat juggling fame), instead of any Martin, Peters, Reiner, or even reluctant pup Shithead. It might seem quaint that there was a time when having a dog named Shithead was considered shocking, but The Jerk's success comes from the size of its protagonist's heart, not the shock value of its concept. (Universal)