Steve Martin is a funny guy. Let’s face it, he just is. Not always, but often, and often enough that when people think of Steve Martin they tend to think “he’s a funny guy.”
Helping show off Steve Martin’s comedy roots, Universal Studios has just released to DVD Steve Martin: The Wild and Crazy Comedy Collection. Included in the pack, on two DVDs are: The Jerk, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, and The Lonely Guy and precious little in the way of bonus features. But, as the movies have held up very well 20-plus years later, they provide enough incentive to purchase the set.
The Jerk follows the life of Navin R. Johnson (Steve Martin), who is more of a complete and total fool than a jerk persay, because he fails to realize just how not bright he is. Even so, Johnson manages to invent the “Opti-grab” which helps eyeglasses to not slip off one’s nose (they also have a clever little handle) and becomes fabulously wealthy. Needless to say he loses it all, (perhaps) learns an important life lesson (perhaps not).
The Jerk may be the out-and-out funniest movie in the set, and though it does make use of numerous stereotypes, it does so with full awareness as to what it’s actually doing. Navin Johnson may be a idiotic, but the movie itself, as with many of Martin’s films is quite smart.
Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is a comedic take on hard-boiled film noir detective stories of the 40s and 50s, with Martin starring as Rigby Reardon. Reardon is hired to look into the death of a prominent cheese maker that his daughter thinks is murder. The film, years before Forrest Gump, throws Martin into a large number film-noir pictures, having him interact with the likes of Barbara Stanwyck, Alan Ladd, Ray Milland, Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Cary Grant, and Humphrey Bogart.
My favorite in the set is Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. As a fan both of Martin’s, film noir in general, and Humphrey Bogart in particular, I think the movie is great. The effects inserting Martin into classic movies don’t look as good as similar things in Forrest Gump and later films, but they are good enough to be both funny and believable.
The last film in the set, The Lonely Guy, stars Martin as just that, a lonely man, named Larry Hubbard. He’s just been dumped by his girlfriend and starts to figure out life on his own, without a woman. He quickly discovers that there are tons of other lonely men out there, all doing the same lonely things. Hubbard writes a book on how to be a lonely guy and becomes hugely successful, but remains lonely until finally connecting with his true love.
This entry in the set is funny, but a little too one-note for my taste. The irony that there are so many lonely people at the same place at the same time doing the same thing quickly becomes old, but the various adventures that Hubbard has provide just enough amusement to make the just over 90 minute film enjoyable.
If not one of the films in the set are terribly surprising in terms of their plot, or feel as though they have jokes that have been told before, that may be because an incredible number of films that have come after them have mimicked Martin’s early work.
The first two films in the set, The Jerk and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid are head-and-shoulders above The Lonely Guy in terms of their humor, though Martin does a wonderful sad-sack character in the latter. Reasonably priced (listing for $19.98), this set, despite it’s lack of special features (there are a couple, including theatrical trailers), is more than worth it.