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DVD Review: The Jerk- 26th Anniversary Edition


I love The Jerk. And with good reason, it's hilarious. It made the American Film Institue's list of the one hundred funniest movies, coming in at number 89, and made my list of my top ten favorite comedy movies. So I was extremely exited when I was offered a review copy of The Jerk- 26th Anniversary Edition. I had my five-stars all lined up... and then I watched it. I couldn't tell you whether or not it was because I was so charged up with anticipation over this release, but I found this DVD to be the most pathetic excuse for an "anniversary edition" that'd I've ever witnessed. The movie itself still easily procures a perfect score of five stars, but without any commentaries, deleted scenes, alternate endings, making-of featurettes, interviews, or gag-reels, this anniversary edition falls flat.

But lets not jump that far ahead quite yet. The Jerk is a fantastically funny movie, so lets focus on that first. Originally released in 1979, it was Steve Martin's first feature film, and definitely helped launch him into stardom... not that he wasn't already popular from his stand-up comedy and his Saturday Night Live gig. Along with having the starring role in the film, he also came up with the initial idea behind it and co-wrote the screenplay. That's one talented guy! But back to the movie! So Steve Martin plays Navin R. Johnson, whom we meet for the first time outside of a theater where he's slumped against a building, wearing raggedy old clothes, drinking from some bottle hidden inside a paper bag, and holding tightly onto a thermos. Ah, but Navin does a way better job of introducing himself than I ever could, so I'll let him take this part:

Huh? I am not a bum. I'm a jerk. I once had wealth, power, and the love of a beautiful woman. Now I only have two things: my friends and... uh... my thermos. Huh? My story? Okay. It was never easy for me. I was born a poor black child. I remember the days, sittin' on the porch with my family, singin' and dancin' down in Mississippi.

The Jerk- 26th Anniversary Edition The next sight we see is an all black family dancing outside on the porch of a rundown wooden home, with the rhythmless all white Navin trying hopelessly to follow along. Navin loves his family, but he just doesn't feel like he fits in with everyone else, and today being his birthday, his mother finally decides to tell him the truth... that he's adopted. Navin's reaction? He exclaims "You mean I'm going to stay this color?" and starts crying. But later that night he hears some music on the radio which gets his feet tapping and his fingers snapping, all in rhythm! So Navin decides it's time for him to take off and see what else is out there. After an eventually successful hitchhiking stint, Navin ends up at a gas station owned by Harry Hartounian, where he gets his very first job.

The Jerk- 26th Anniversary Edition Navin takes to it with youthful enthusiasm, and has quite a few unique experiences, including getting a place to stay in the garage's storage closet, getting ecstatic when the new phone books arrive because his name is in it for the very first time, voluntarily handing all the petty cash over to known thieves just because they asked for it, watching part of a church get inadvertently towed down the street by a blue Chevy two-door, and fixing a man's glasses by installing a new kind of nose rest to keep them from falling off. But before long, Navin finds himself moving on and joining a traveling carnival, thanks to a mad gunman who just happened to pick Navin's name out of the phone book at random. There he gets the job of weight-guesser, and meets motorcycle daredevil Patty Bernstein... who shows him his "special purpose".

The Jerk- 26th Anniversary Edition Patty's strong S&M dominance isn't quite Navin's style, however. Then one day he meets a lovely young woman named Marie Kimbal, and makes a date with her for the next day. When Patty finds out, Navin quickly decides that it's time to move on and leave the carnival life. He quickly finds himself falling in love with the beautiful cosmetologist, and she finds herself falling for him, even though she doesn't want to... because her mom sacrificed everything to put her through cosmetology school, and her mom wants her to "marry someone with power, great vision, someone with a special purpose". They sure do make a lovely couple... perhaps if our Navin speaks from his heart, he will be able to convince her...

I know we've only known each other four weeks and three days, but to me it seems like nine weeks and five days. The first day seemed like a week and the second day seemed like five days. And the third day seemed like a week again and the fourth day seemed like eight days. And the fifth day you went to see your mother and that seemed just like a day, and then you came back and later on the sixth day, in the evening, when we saw each other, that started seeming like two days, so in the evening it seemed like two days spilling over into the next day and that started seeming like four days, so at the end of the sixth day on into the seventh day, it seemed like a total of five days. And the sixth day seemed like a week and a half. I have it written down, but I can show it to you tomorrow if you want to see it.

The Jerk- 26th Anniversary Edition Too bad Marie was asleep at the time. So she takes off, but things aren't glum for long, as Stan Fox, that guy for whom Navin fixed the glasses, was finally able to track Navin down... and give him half of the profits from the invention. Navin's first check: two hundred and fifty thousand dollars! And there's many more where that came from! Now that he has wealth, power, and fame he can get his love back and live happily every after... well, at least until he looses everything in a class action lawsuit... everything, that is, except his ashtray... and his paddle game... and that's it... except for the remote control... but that's everything... and the lamp... nothing more... except those matches... and nothing else... but the chair... and the magazine....

The Jerk- 26th Anniversary Edition Okay, now back to the DVD. Like I mentioned, for an "anniversary release", this DVD is severely lacking in extra features. Besides the movie, it contains only the original theatrical trailer, production notes, a tutorial on how to play "Tonight You Belong to Me" on the ukulele, and "The Lost Filmstrips of Father Carlos Las Vegas de Cordova" which is about five minutes of grainy black and white footage of a guy doing weird things such as teasing a fish and cussing at a plant. Where are the deleted scenes? I know they exist! I originally saw this flick on television and it had some more scenes in it. Thinking I might have been going crazy, I did an Internet search to confirm it, and sure enough, others remember there being additional scenes as well. So where are they?! And what's with the transfer? It wasn't cleaned up at all! It's like they took the original film and just slapped it on DVD, so it has a very worn look to it.

The Jerk- 26th Anniversary Edition Come on Universal Home Video! Whats up?! We know you have the ability to put out great anniversary releases. I mean, look at The 30th Anniversary Edition of Jaws. See? You know how to do this! How many people does it take to clean up 90 minutes worth of old faded film? You're Universal Home Video, and you can't hire a few more interns? And don't even try telling me that you couldn't convince one single person who worked on the film to sit down for an hour and a half and share their memories of the experience. Oh... wait a sec... are you guys planning to do all this for the 30th Anniversary Edition? Nah... you wouldn't have any reason to encourage people to buy yet another version only a few years down the road. That's would just be dumb. Forget I brought it up. So anyway, as an anniversary edition it sucks, but it's still The Jerk, so if you don't have it then you should get it before someone finds out!

The Jerk- 26th Anniversary Edition is being released by Universal Home Video on DVD starting July 26, 2005, and stars Steve Martin as Navin R. Johnson, Bernadette Peters as Marie Kimbal (Navin's love interest), Jackie Mason as Harry Hartounian (the gas station owner), Mabel King as Navin's Mother, Richard Ward as Navin's Father, Bill Macy as Stan Fox (the businessman), and Dick O'Neill as Frosty. It was directed by Carl Reiner.

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