God bless Steve Martin. He really isn’t that funny anymore, but as Bruce Willis said in Lucky Number Slevin, “There was a time.” Today is about three of his more well-known movies and my personal favorites.
Sgt. Bilko (1996)
Steve Martin plays the titular Sergeant, the most irreverent man in a U.S. military uniform. He’s all about gambling, having a good time and not letting “the man” get him down. While discussing a past experience with fixing a boxing match, he says “I like a sporting event in which I know the outcome ahead of time. It’s more organized.” That really sums up his character. That and “All I ever wanted was an honest week’s pay for an honest day’s work.”
What really makes this movie work is the Steve Martin’s delivery. For the first two thirds at least. Like 97% of comedies out there, it starts to lose steam in the last act. But the rest of the movie had me howling. The one-liners are priceless. My favorite scenes are the ones where Sgt. Bilko is smooth-talking Dan Akroyd’s character, Colonel Hall. Watching him manipulate the blissfully stupid Colonel was hilarious. The script in anybody else’s hand wouldn’t have been that funny, but he just made it work somehow.
Of all his movies, this one is my personal favorite.
79 out of 100
The Jerk (1979)
Steve Martin plays Navin Johnson, a complete idiot who goes out to find his “special purpose” in life and winds up a millionaire somehow, only to suffer a reversal of fortune.
The first lines of the movie really set the stage for the type of humor we’ll be hit with in this movie. Navin narrates into the camera “I was born a poor black child” without the slightest hint of sarcasm. The deadpan delivery of much of the lines is really what makes the humor work. It’s all very underplayed, and delivered so straight-faced that you almost don’t realize that they’re making a joke. Another great example was when Navin meets with a priest and says “Father, you seem like a religious man.”
The wide-eyed idiocy of the main character is also a strength, because it’s kind of like watching a 5-year-old try to make sense of the world, especially when he lucks his way in wealth.
I loved this movie, but I can tell that the humor won’t be for everybody.
75 out of 100
Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
John Hughes wrote and directed this movie back when he was busy defining a generation, before he went about making the worst movies known to man. All three primary talents in Planes Trains and Automobiles were in their prime, and it showed. I’ve periodically considered writing a post comparing the brilliance of this movie to how lame the ripoff Due Date was, but I’ve just never gotten around to it.
But anyway, what is it that makes PT&A work? A few different things. Mostly, the characters. Steve Martin as Neal Page and John Candy as Del Griffith are both hilarious and outlandish, while still keeping their characters grounded in a certain semblance of realism. They are both very identifiable and multi-layered, much like real people. John Candy plays the lovable idiot perfectly, never being stupid enough to alienate the audience. Steve Martin plays the straight man in the movie, of course, and the way he maintains the character leads perfectly into the funniest part of the movie.
Even though I like Sgt. Bilko a bit better, Planes, Trains and Automobiles is the superior movie.
85 out of 100
For Attebiz Movie Reviews, I’m the J-Man.