It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Reviewing a comedy can be a tricky business, because the question of whether the comedy was "good" or "bad" depends almost entirely upon whether or not the reviewer was amused. Laughter is quite often an involuntary reaction: If I laugh at something and you don't, no amount of my logic is going to convince you that it was funny.
And so when I say that “The Jerk,” the first major film starring Steve Martin, was not an amusing comedy, I should probably also report that a lot of the people who went to the sneak preview laughed all the way through it. (Others booed—but there you are.)
I can report, however, why I didn't find “The Jerk” very funny. It began to grind on me right at the beginning because it was depending on whats rather than whys for its laughs. I'll explain. It seems to me that there are two basic approaches to any kind of comedy, and in a burst of oversimplification I'll call them the Funny Hat and the Funny Logic approaches. The difference is elementary: In the first, we're supposed to laugh because the comic is wearing the funny hat, and in the second it's funny because of his reasons for wearing the funny hat.
You may have guessed by now that I prefer the Funny Logic approach, and that “The Jerk” is almost entirely a movie of Funny Hats. An example, from the film's opening premise: Steve Martin has been raised as a member of a family of poor black Southern sharecroppers, and, although he is white, it has never occurred to him that he might be adopted. His life is happy until the day he learns the truth, and is sent out into the world to earn his way. He hits the road wearing a World War II bomber's helmet and goggles.