Ernest is back, Jack! Right? It’s the same guy each time? Anyway, unbeknownst to Ernest he has a doppelganger on death row. A fateful turn on jury duty unexpectedly gets them switched and his whole life is turned upside down when he’s stuck in jail. Can he escape, stop the criminal, and get the girl before it’s too late? Find out in… Ernest Goes to Jail.
How?! Meet Ernest P. Worrell. A dim but well-meaning janitor at a bank. Everyone there loves him and wants him to succeed as a future bank teller except the cranky president of the bank. Booooooo. Oh and he also becomes magnetic whenever he is electrocuted instead of dying. Not sure why. Anyway, in a wild coincidence he is called to jury duty for the trial of a toady for a local crime lord, Nash, who is just days away from his time in the electric chair and is an exact doppelganger for our poor Ernest. Realizing an opportunity the criminal convinces the judge to allow the jury to tour the prison during which the crime lord pulls the ol’ switcheroo and leaves poor Ernest in his place. Double boooo. While Ernest tries to navigate the hilarious world of maximum security prison, Nash is planning to rob the bank, sexually assault Ernest’s very kind female coworker (and love interest?), and probably do a whole bunch of other nasty stuff. Ernest attempts to escape to no avail, only to find that when they try to electrocute him it merely imbues him with super electromagnetic powers. With said powers he blows that joint (with the help of a prisoner with a heart of gold, Lyle) and gets to the bank just in time to try to stop Nash from blowing the vault and killing his coworkers. An all-out brawl ensues ending with Ernest once again getting electrocuted, gaining the ability to fly via polarization, and flying the bomb into the night sky where it appears he is killed. However, he falls back to Earth right on top of Nash, incapacitating him for good and then smash cut. THE END.
Why?! I’m actually not sure… I think it has something to do with the American dream. Like sure Ernest is dumb, but he’s nice and works hard, so shouldn’t that count for something? Interestingly they don’t make any claim that Ernest is actually good at his job despite his shortcomings. In fact they make it clear that he is quite bad at it. A convicted killer on death row comes straight out of jail and is so much better than Ernest at his job that he is immediately offered the promotion that Ernest has been trying hard to get. It’s actually kinda sad when you think about it.
Who?! Big time shout out to the true friend Ernest met in Jail, Lyle. He’s a big enforcer type who turns out to have a heart of gold (and an unrivaled mane of hair). The actor was actually former professional kickboxer and heavyweight boxer Tex Cobb. He’s probably best known for getting absolutely destroyed by Larry Holmes in an unlikely title fight. Some interesting rumors surrounded his career, including some drug and gambling stuff that was allegedly connected to his sudden retirement from the sport in 1993 and a claim that he was supposed to be the opponent for Muhammad Ali’s last fight but broke his arm saving a friend from a bar fight and had to back out.
What?! In some ways you can think of the entire franchise as a product placement. Ernest started as a character used in a number of commercials and eventually he himself became the product. Ironically once that became the point all the products in this film are cartoon versions and not real product placements.
Where?! Unsurprisingly, given Ernest’s roots, this film is set in the great state of Tennessee. Even if it weren’t predictable, it’s made clear at the very least by the Tennessee license plates on some of the main characters’ cars. C.
When?! This is actually a funny question. There is a calendar in Ernest/Nash’s cell with dates being crossed off, but there doesn’t seem to be much indication of what month the calendar is supposed to represent. Likely this is just a prop calendar, but I like to think that it is actually a nonspecific generic calendar that they give prisoners. You do see a January 1990 calendar hanging in the bank. Again likely just grabbed a prop and hung it up to the first page, but gotta assume the bank is actively using the calendar and it’s accurate. KnowhutImean? B-
So I watched Ernest’s “friend” Escape Plan: Hades first and that film is a whole bunch of nonsense. At times I thought they were speaking a different language or something because it was hard to follow exactly what was happening. It looked nice, though, with its fancy robots and fancy prison and fancy fight scenes. But it’s all fluff and was actually pretty boring. As if they didn’t really care to make a comprehensible film, but rather just an entry in their visual portfolio so they could try to get an even bigger and fancier job. I can certainly see why it didn’t go to theaters. As for Ernest, I daresay I actually kinda enjoyed myself. Ernest is just a silly character and his schtick lands quite often as he mugs and goes off on some overly-serious monologue on acting or business or the like. I can understand why I liked the films as a kid even if I almost definitely didn’t understand how crazy the attempted sexual assault by Nash is or the fact that Ernest is nearly executed via electric chair. Probably a full twenty minutes where the film starts to venture into the twilight zone away from the harmless fun that otherwise makes the franchise what it is: enjoyable stupidity. Patrick?
‘Ello everyone! Sometimes I forget that the Ernest films were a real thing. Like … if my parents had told me that it was some Canadian TV movie and that no one else had seen it I would have just shrugged and said “yeah makes sense”. But it isn’t … this was released to over 1000 theaters in 1990. Let’s go!
P’s View on the Preview – I watched the trailer, and made the notes, and read the reviews … but I still had a sneaking suspicion I would like this film. Why? First because I watched it as a kid. Something about Ernest must just remind me of simpler times. But more important I’ve watched Ernest Goes to Camp more recently, about 7 years ago, and I thought that was actually a lot better than you might think. I was sure I was going to think the same thing here.
The Good – Ernest is goofy harmless silliness. Varney himself is top notch, with both the physicality necessary for a kids’ movie character and the ability to do some goofy impressions. As the heart and soul of the film there is little more I would ask him to do. I dig the surrealist atmosphere this movie takes, the bright pink guard uniforms, the completely open prison cells with twenty foot ceilings, a world filled with goofy caricatures. It all kind of works on a straight-to-video level.
The Bad – The film is aggressively dumb, and in that sense all of the reviews are totally justified. The love story comes across as creepy now I think as it is abundantly obvious Ernest had either a learning disability or has serious emotional issues he should be working out with a therapist. The film is crazy dark with Ernest going to the electric chair and basically killed while the prison warden looks on in glee. Super nuts. The film is extremely derivative, relying exclusively on the doppelganger / Prince and the Pauper trope to drive the story forwards.
You Just Got Schooled – The story of Ernest is pretty interesting, at least what you can glean from IMDb notes and elsewhere. This article seems like a pretty good roundup. Short story: Varney wanted to be an actor, but struggled to establish himself on the stage in NYC. Bouncing between his home in Kentucky and New York he ended up landing a spot with Cherry, an ad man. They ended up doing hundreds of commercials together, and then got a four picture deal (which Ernest Goes to Jail is part of). Afterwards they settled into a more lucrative straight-to-video deal, but unfortunately Verney died in 2000 prior to filming Ernest Goes to Space and Ernest and the Voodoo Curse (which I would have called Weekend at Ernest’s 2, but whatever). Fascinating stuff, a really really unique only-in-the-90s type franchise I think.
The BMT – Do I think Ernest is a BMT franchise … no. I don’t. Despite the fact that I would say that I’m fairly objective when it comes to films I saw when I was a kid (Hook, I’m looking at you), I can’t help but like Ernest. I think he’s harmless fun, so there. The character is sweet, and naive, and always tries to do what’s best. What’s wrong with that? Nothing I think … although they are pretty bad. I reserve the right to change my mind, but for now Ernest is pretty okay nonsense.
Sklogwords – After moving Welcome to Earth to the preview I needed a new game, and noticing that The Movie Database is a little light on keywords what bigger service could I provide the world that filling in entirely too accurate keywords for BMT films. For Ernest I chose the following ten in order: Prison, prison break, magnetism, bank robbery, janitor, electric chair, Tennessee, doppelganger, impersonation, animal actor. The funniest one is probably either doppelganger (where the film Southland Tales tends to come up a lot) or Tennessee which, fun fact, is also the setting of the Hannah Montana Movie! And now I’m the number one editor of the film Ernest Goes to Jail on TMDB. So there.
StreetCreditReport.com – There is really nothing here, which isn’t that surprising. Do you know what is surprising? That one of the main reasons listed in reviews as to why Ernest was unbearable was that he was either “too nerdy” or “too geeky”. Like, say what? It doesn’t feel like he is either of those things. At the very least he has a learning disability, but geeky? Nerdy? What was up with the early 90s yo?
Bring a Friend Analysis – As the number of wide release bad movies has dropped in the past few years I’ve often thought that it is likely that at least some of them are going direct to VOD. And Escape Plan 2: Hades seemed like a perfect test of this theory. Wrong! Wrong! The first film was surprisingly good, a decent team-up in Stallone and Arnold, a classic 80s actioner really. This? This is trash. This is dog poo thrown forcefully into my face. It has robots, and terrible actors, and AI, and … it is gibberish. It makes you feel like you are taking crazy pills. And then there is a ton of guns and killing … I just wanted some prison escapes man! This is worse that Prison Break season 2 when they forgot the show was about breaking out of prisons! On the one hand I’m glad to hear that, no, not all VOD features are suddenly on BMT’s radar. On the other I watched Escape Plan 2: Hades in real life, that is something I spent some of my short time on Earth doing. So that’s depressing. B as a friend, F- as an actual movie fit for human consumption.
Phew, long one, but I have a feeling the Bring a Friend cycle will tend to be that way. Cheerios,