This review is part of a series in which the author watches all of the Ernest movies in order, even though some day he will die.
At this point, I’ve watched four Ernest movies, which is three more Ernest movies than any other person has ever watched, including Jim Varney. Goes to Jail was not just my favorite Ernest movie when I was a kid, it was my favorite movie, period. So if you’re one of the thousand-odd crybabies who accused me of ruining their childhoods with my negative Goes to Camp review, now’s your chance to get even.
I used to watch Goes to Jail at least once a week when I was little. And I’m glad to report that my opinions were just as correct then as they are now (although it turns out that when a girl pees, they don’t actually have a secret penis that comes out of their butt like an alien mouth). If you’ve never seen an Ernest movie and you want to watch one that won’t retroactively dock you college credit, this is your pick.
Ernest returns to his celebrated role as “janitor,” this time the night janitor at a bank. In the opening scene, he destroys the entire lobby, presaging The Matrix by nine years. In the midst of the chaos, he electrocutes himself, his body magnetically attracts every metal object around him and he has to flee into the bank vault to avoid being crushed by metal filing cabinets. He somehow does not get fired.
Ernest aspires to be a teller, but his ambition is derided by his arrogant boss. He’s encouraged to persist by the also-returning “implausibly available, single and interested beautiful woman” character, this time named Charlotte. Charlotte and Ernest have a platonic flirtation that feels like one of those awful Star Trek: The Next Generation romances where two crew members with dead eyes weirdly touch each other’s elbows.
Ernest gets called for jury duty. The defendant, a Badd Dude on trial for killing someone in prison, notices that Ernest bears an identical resemblance to the jail’s kingpin, Felix Nash. Badd Dude’s lawyer proposes that they all tour the grounds of the prison, on pretext of seeing the scene of the crime, so that Nash can switch places with Ernest.
During the trial, Ernest accidentally breaks his pen while chewing it. Sort of like how filmmaker/asshole Quentin Tarantino always finds a way to include a scene in all his movies that’s about a thousand times more gratuitously malicious and disturbing than it needs to be, Varney always manages to pull off at least one moment in every Ernest movie that redeems the misuse of the 87 other minutes.
The field trip happens, and the switch is made as planned. Afterwards, Badd Dude and his non-speaking enforcer colleague force him to play-act Nash. Nash also pretends to be Ernest, and hatches a plan to rob the bank.
In short order, Nash is offered the promotion Ernest was denied and starts spitting mad game at Charlotte. He also strips Ernest’s house of all its Rube Goldberg machines after he trips over a train track and gets shot in the forehead with a suction dart. You really have to work to remind yourself that Nash is evil, because in the Worrellverse, being a villain basically consists of carrying yourself with dignity. The only way we know he’s the bad guy is that he has a droopy eye, he doesn’t get along with Ernest’s dog, Rimshot, and he reads.
Every time Charlotte comes anywhere close to Nash at the bank, her mouth winds up inches away from his. Then the writers, after spending so much time polishing him into a suave operator, have Nash dress in a gaudy Hugh Hefner robe and make a desperate lunge at her when she visits him at home.
The prevailing lesson of Ernest is that the world will crush you under its heel if you’re a weakling, but you get to hang out with sympathetic babes and cool skater kids as a consolation. Except that you don’t. It tends to kill the mood when a condom is delivered by model train.
Interestingly, there was a scene cut from the movie in which Ernest is given a conjugal visit while he’s in prison. It’s telling that even the people who wrote, shot and edited these films couldn’t bring themselves to pretend that Ernest would ever have sex. In fact, after the electric chair reactivates Ernest’s magnetic powers and he shoots his way out of prison with hand lightning, then thwarts Nash after a long battle, he still doesn’t actually ever get the girl.
This movie is the franchise’s high-water mark. The performances are stellar, at least by Ernest standards. Chuck and Bobby have their best roles, as security guards who constantly overstep their authority. Varney gets to flex the acting muscles that aren’t involved in getting crushed by objects, and plays Nash credibly, if broadly. The film is also recommended by a virtual absence of midriffs and serious feels.
Call me sentimental, but it was nice to watch a prison comedy in which inmates don’t rape each other for yuks (ha ha look what happens when we put them in cages so funne lolz). It was also nice to find that Ernest Goes To Jail still made me laugh, even as a fully-grown manchild.