To be sure, this picaresque tale [The Jerk] is far from a classically constructed comedy. There are gags that might work as blackout sketches on Saturday Night Live that merely interrupt the story line of The Jerk…. There are narrative gaps and illogical thrusts that, I fear, were unintentional. But even some of the irrelevant material is strangely entertaining.
After Navin meets his true love, Marie …, he excitedly writes his mother: "Dear Mom, she looks just like you—except she's white and blonde." Later, the two lovers stroll along a moonlit beach, singing "Tonight You Belong to Me" in a pleasantly off-key duet, accompanied by ukulele and, of all things, cornet. The scene could have been nothing more than the kind of blatant lampooning of movies of the past that runs throughout [Steven Spielberg's] 1941. Instead, it is an oddly touching romantic interlude, a pleasant contrast to the rest of the film…. Martin—perhaps because he works as a standup comedian—understands the role of rhythm in humor.
I must admit that I have never been a fan of either Martin or Saturday Night Live, where he rose to prominence. Nevertheless, in The Jerk he has carefully put together a persona that is a genuine comic archetype. With his eyes darting wildly, his tongue tripping clumsily in his mouth, and his arms flapping helplessly at his side, Navin is the perfect embodiment of awkwardness and insecurity. (pp. 23-4)
The Jerk, though admittedly fanciful, derives comic strength from its small moments. They ring true enough to make us squirm, and invite us to laugh not just at others but at ourselves. (p. 24)
Robert Asahina, "No Laughing Matters," in The New Leader, Vol. LXIII, No. 1, January 14, 1980, pp. 22-4.∗