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Film review: Ernest Goes to Jail

Published: Tuesday, April 10 1990 12:00 a.m. MDT

Ernest P. Worrell, the "knowwhutImean?" commercial pitchman whose earlier films, "Ernest Goes to Camp" and "Ernest Saves Christmas" were surprise hits, is back with "Ernest Goes to Jail."

And the result is . . ., well, business as usual.

One thing that helped "Ernest Saves Christmas" a bit was that subplots involved other people and there was a bit of warmth to it all, so Jim Varney's obnoxious character wasn't on the screen all the time. But "Ernest Goes to Jail" is pretty much non-stop Ernest.

He's a bank janitor this time out, trying to qualify to be a bank clerk, but, in his own clumsy way, failing miserably. For some reason the bank president is hesitant to promote someone who messes up the bank each night instead of cleaning it.

The film is mainly built around a mistaken-identity plot involving Ernest and a look-alike named Nash, who's in prison for murder. When Ernest is called to jury duty, Nash contrives to have the jury taken to the prison site, where Ernest is forced to switch places with Nash.

The bulk of the film concerns Ernest's adventures in prison and Nash's plotting to rob the bank.

One running gag has Ernest becoming magnetic, which is an extended variation of a joke from Danny Kaye's "The Court Jester," and another has a floor polisher dragging him up a wall and over a ceiling.

But special-effects aside, this is purely low-humor slapstick for the kids.

I remember going to Saturday movie matinees as a youngster and roaring at the antics of Jerry Lewis and the Three Stooges and the Bowery Boys. And my parents would wonder what in the world was so appealing about the moronic antics of these idiots on the screen.

Ernest is in the same league.

My youngest sons, ages 7 and 9, enjoyed "Ernest Goes to Jail," and later the same day put the "Ernest Goes to Camp" video in the VCR once more. On the other hand, my two young daughters, ages 10 and 12, couldn't be bothered; they declined to attend "Ernest Goes to Jail."

Maybe that's an indication of what age-level Ernest appeals to.

"Ernest Goes to Jail" is rated PG for comic violence and a few mildly vulgar gags.

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