Box art for The Jerk

The Jerk


Steve Martin portrays Navin Johnson, adopted son of a poor black sharecropper family, whose crazy inventions lead him from rags to riches and right back to rags.

Rotten Tomatoes® scores

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  • Audience Score

common sense

PAUSE for kids age 15
0 out of 5
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
3 out of 5
3 out of 5
Positive messages
3 out of 5
3 out of 5
3 out of 5
Positive role models
0 out of 5

Classic Steve Martin comedy with frequent profanity.

what parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Jerk is a 1979 Steve Martin comedy that is -- while certainly one of Martin's best and best-loved movies -- filled with frequent profanity as well as the use of racial slurs. Although the use of racial slurs is used to heighten a scene in which mob goons are trying to keep minorities out of real estate in more upscale neighborhoods, the nuance of the scene might be lost on younger viewers. In an extended scene, a young boy is shown wearing a T-shirt that reads "Bull S--t." There is some sexual innuendo: Navin's adopted mother had referred to his penis as having a "special purpose," and he finds out just what that means when he loses his virginity to a tough-acting, foul-mouthed motorcycle stuntwoman. The stuntwoman's trailer is shown from the outside rocking up and down. A crazed gunman is shown pursuing Navin with a rifle and scope, trying to kill him from a distance. Characters are shown drinking, smoking cigarettes, and, in one scene, smoking a joint. Although The Jerk is one of the all-time great comedies, the content and raw material for the comedy make this best for mature teens and older.

what families can talk about

  • Families can talk about how race is depicted in the movie. How is racial stereotyping explored in serious and not-so-serious ways?
  • How is Navin's naivet revealed in the film, and how is this used as the primary source of the comedy?
  • What are some aspects of the movie that place it firmly in the late 1970s? If this movie were to be remade today, what do you think would be different about it?

movie reviews from Rotten Tomatoes®

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Audience Reviews

5 stars

This has to be 1 of the greatest comedies of all time

- dukeakasmudge, Thursday, October 29, 2009

4 stars

The Jerk is amazingly fresh and new despite being 29 years old. The jokes are fast and furious and are held together by a simple plot which is still engaging. Classic jokes come by almost as randomly as Walsh chooses Martin as his next victim. A hilarious can shoot out, a dog named Shithead and some perfectly delivered lines, these are the kind of jokes that get better with age and can be even funnier as you anticipate their arrival. The comedy often doesn't make that much sense but it is a kind of intelligent stupidity. Martin is wonderful as a hapless idiot and his supporting cast get plenty of great material to work with. I doubt this film will ever age and I'm suprised how many of the jokes have not been lifted from comedies since it was released. Though they may have been I doubt they would have made as much of an impact as this kind of comedy is priceless.

- kiriyamakazou, Monday, August 18, 2008

3 stars

The Jerk is the story of Navin R. Johnson, who was born a poor black kid but on hearing muzak for the first time discovers his rhythm and set out to find his special purpose...Some younger movie-goers may not know this, but Steve Martin actually used to be funny. This is one of his early films, and as such is far more concerned with random silliness and slapstick than the saccharine soaked sentimentality that became his trademark. I loved this film when I was younger but inevitably on revisiting it, it wasn't as funny as I remembered. I think the problem is that the Zucker/Abrams franchise behemoth has long since milked this particular brand of humour dry, so it all looks far more everyday and run-of-the-mill than it used to. But it's still got plenty of laugh out loud moments, including funny turns from Jackie Mason ("he's teaching me to be impatient") and M. Emmett Walsh as a psychotic lone gunman, as well as plenty of visual gags and one liners (the cat juggler in particular is straight out of Monty Python!) Maybe not the work of genius I remembered, but still a better than anything he's done in the past two decades, and certainly a hell of a lot funnier than Adam bloody Sandler.

- garyX, Friday, June 27, 2008