Way back when, in what surely seems a lifetime ago, Steve Martin was a comedy god. Ã‚Â His guest appearances on Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show propelled him into the national consciousness. Even if you didn't grow up during that era, SNL repeats have made King Tut (a song Martin wrote and performed himself) a part of comedy history. How many other comedians can say that they were responsible for lines that became national catchphrases-like, "Excuuuuuse me!" or Ã‚Â "We're just two wild and crazy guys" (in a heavy Czech accent)? Ã‚Â
The list of films from Martin's personal golden era include such comedy gems like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Dead Man Don't Wear Plaid, The Three Amigos, Planes, Trains & Automobiles and, of course, the classic smart-dumb comedy The Jerk.
The guy who plays straight man to the comedy stylings of Queen Latifah. That's like getting them both to collaborate on a rap album, and having her hold the mic while Martin freestyles about money and bitches. Besides late-term abortions like Bringing Down the House, there's also Looney Tunes: Back in Action and this year's Pink Panther to consider, where Martin once again dropped a rung on the comedy ladder, this time playing straight man to Beyonce, of all people. The fact that the studio held Panther back for over a year should tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that the comedy stylings of Martin/Beyonce weren't on par with the classic dry wit of the Martin/Latifah years.
And of course, there's the family fare like Father of the Bride (1 and 2) and Cheaper by the Dozen (both 1 and 2, the second one featuring the similarly fallen-from-grace Eugene Levy). Taking those kinds of standard studio roles allows Martin the financial freedom to do pet projects such as Shopgirl, based on his novella of the same name. Interestingly, both Shopgirl and The Pink Panther have one thing in common: since nobody has ever stayed awake through them, nobody knows how either actually ends.
Martin's turning point probably came when he decided to write and star in movies of personal importance to him, beginning with 1987's Roxanne, Martin's take on Cyrano de Bergerac. Since then, he's also starred in some dramas as well, including David Mamet's excellent film The Spanish Prisoner (absolutely worth renting). Ã‚Â
But when a talented avant-guarde comedian goes dramatic on us, or starts starring alongside a cartoon or in formula movies that studio suits come up with (Sgt. Bilko, anyone?) it usually means that he's stopped caring about getting laughs altogether, and is either aiming for some credibility or a paycheck. And as we all know, there's nothing funnier than a credible, rich comedian.
Come back to us, Steve. Follow the white light.
Martin needs to stop thinking he can write and act. While he's a gifted writer, his writing is more dry and philosophical than it is comedic. Martin's gifts lie in his comedic timing and dead-pan delivery. Ã‚Â Salvation can come in the form of some choice, off-beat indie comedies-a path forged by Bill Murray. Ã‚Â Martin would be well-advised to follow suit.