Cracking Up is the last feature film (so far) written and directed by Jerry Lewis. Cracking Up was completed in 1982; after a disastrous preview screening in Kansas City, it was only released theatrically overseas under its original title, Smorgasboard. Cracking Up is 89 minutes of my life that I will never get back. Cracking Up is an interminable parade of barely connected scenes. By my count, there are 22 “skits and bits.” Here's what we get (all timings approximate):
2 Jerry visits a psychiatrist and slips on his highly polished floor. 5m.
3 Jerry and the psychiatrist (Herb Edelman) cannot decide on which chair Jerry should sit. 6m.
4 Jerry has an unfunny flashback in which he recalls crossing the street with another sixty year-old actor dressed as a child. They keep dropping things. 5 min.
5 Jerry visits a roller-skating rink and puts on ice skates. 2 min.
6 Jerry remembers an ancestor (also played by Jerry) in 15th century France. This sequence is colorful, but half the long shots look out of focus. Much of the sequence involves Jerry speaking gibberish that is supposed to be French. At one point the phrase "Oui, Oui" refers to urine. 3 min.
8 Jerry thinks back to his father, the orchestra conductor (also played by Jerry) for 3 minutes of orchestral hi-jinks that feels more like 20 minutes.
9 Jerry witnesses a bank robbery. The head crook (also played by Jerry) notices the bank's security cameras. The criminals become obsessed with the security cameras and perform an elaborate dance routine in front of them. The police arrive and join the dance. 7 min.
10 Dick Butkus tries to help Jerry stop smoking. 2 min.
11 Milton Berle appears as a sexually insatiable elderly woman. He makes funny faces; Jerry makes funny faces back. 5 min.
12 Jerry wears swim flippers on his feet, so he will no longer slip on the psychiatrist's highly polished floor. Jerry places two cigarettes in his mouth and imitates a walrus. 5 min.
13 Jerry hits his head on a wall sculpture that makes noise. 2 min.
14 Jerry has trouble taking a ticket from a parking garage kiosk. 1 min.
15 Jerry goes to the airport and has unfunny problems with the ticket agent, security, and the other passengers. Foster Brooks shows up, doing his “funny drunk” character from the 1970s. 7 min.
16 Jerry ends up in a hospital and has unfunny surgery. 3 min.
17 The psychiatrist suddenly decides to cure Jerry's desperately unfunny fear of heights. 5 minutes.
18 Jerry tries to find the psychiatrist's address book. 4 min.
19 Jerry has car trouble; an unfunny Southern sheriff (also played by Jerry) arrests a man who is morbidly obese. 5 min.
20 Jerry is a chauffeur in a segment that also includes Sammy Davis, Jr., who seems to be wearing his costume from The Cannonball Run. I guess they let him keep his wardrobe. 5 min.
21 An unfunny carpet installer (also played by Jerry) spills coffee. 2 min.
22 Jerry tries to kill himself again. Unfunny out takes over the end credits hint at deleted sequences; apparently, the Butkus segment was originally a lot longer. I can only imagine this is to leave us with a sense of profound gratitude that the movie was not as long as it could have been. 3 min.
Babies, I am not merely some Jerry Lewis hater who is looking to just pile on. I like several of his films and regard my first reading of his book, The Total Filmmaker, to be a seminal moment in my film education. I WAS ACTUALLY HOPING THIS WOULD BE GOOD.
Cracking Up stands as the nadir of all art: pointless, self-absorbed, annoying, shallow, poorly made, and at times offensive. It serves to make all of the hundreds of bad movies I have seen in my life seem just a little bit better. And that, babies? That’s an achievement.