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'1941' and 'The Jerk': few bright moments in either

The Jerk Starring Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters. Directed by Carl Reiner. Another current loser is "The Jerk," which is no more subtle or inviting that its title. Steve Martin plays the main character, who grows up on a poor black homestead in the South. At the beginning of the picture he goes into the world and seeks to make his fortune. Eventually he becomes a rich man with a lovely wife, then loses everything, then gets it back again.

"The Jerk" contains some good gags. Bernadette Peters is effective as the hero's lady love, especially when she bursts into trumpet solos during their romantic interludes, and Martin has his moments. But his style is superficial and monotonous -- like most of the graduates of TV's "Saturday Night Live" (many of whom are in "1941") he seems to know only a few tricks, and when they're exhausted, it's just more of the same.

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To make matters worse, Carl Reiner has directed the farce with a sledgehammer in both fists. Gone is the energy of his one real success at the movies, "Where's Poppa?" Instead it's just thud, thud, thud. Each joke is pushed like a custard pie in your face, and you're expected to laugh every time someone howls a dirty word.

Let's hope Hollywood learns from its mistakes.You can't buy humor with big bucks, a la "1941," or throttle your audience into laughing, a la "The Jerk." Comedy requires bold ideas, skilled performers, and artful execution -- every step on the way, from scripting to cutting. Leave out any of these ingredients, and you have graceless, ill-mannered buffoonery.

"1941" is rated PG for its vulgar language, some scatological humor, and occasional sexual activity.


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