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.
When you watch nothing but Ernest movies, every other movie seems incredible. I saw Doom a couple nights ago and it was like taking mushrooms. I also thought Jurassic World was really cool. Hopefully this brain damage is permanent and I can live the rest of my life actually enjoying things.
Chalk it up to symptoms, but I thought Ernest Rides Again was a solid 4/5 stars. These are Ernest stars, not normal stars, by the way, the kind you see after falling off a ladder.
On the heels of the box-office-streak- and Geneva-Convention-breaking failure of Ernest Scared Stupid, literally anything that didn’t cause permanent psychological harm would have been a step up. But they somehow managed to piece Humpty Dumpty into an even better egg than before he fell.
The movie feels like everyone involved was basking in some pre-death euphoria. Like how gazelles will go all limp and dopey after a lion pins it. Feeling the jaws of cultural irrelevance closing around their windpipes, they drifted into a bizarre and hilarious dream.
Ernest and a history professor named Dr. Melon find a Revolutionary War cannon that contains the Crown Jewels for some reason (the ones in the Tower of London are fakes) and a murderous antiques collector, two vacuum salesmen, the professor’s wife, and a team of British agents try to stop them while they ride through the countryside on the back of the cannon. None of which makes sense, or needs to. The storyline is just a thin pretext for an onslaught of puns, sight gags and prat falls.
Although there’s a toxic load of bad acting (literally everyone that isn’t Jim Varney performs like they were non-actors who won a contest to appear in an Ernest movie), everything moves at such a breakneck clip that there’s no time to process all the flubbed lines. It doesn’t let up. There’s no mid-movie slump, no annoying kids or love interests, no hamfisted moralizing. Just Ernest. Lots and lots of Ernest.
But there’s something different about this Ernest. He’s more clever, more self-aware, and more of a jester than a buffoon. It’s hard to tell exactly what changed. It’s not just that the writing is sharper than normal – it’s that Varney steps into Ernest’s denim like it’s his first choice, instead of something he’s settling for. He’s no Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin or Chico Marx, but if I were writing a textbook about the history of comedy, I would at least give him a sidebar in their chapter.
Rides Again has more in common with Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloombeam than with the other canonical Ernest movies. Which is a good thing. I missed Chuck and Bobby, who are replaced by an irritating and unfunny duo who finish one another’s sentences. But otherwise, the dearth of familiar Ernest conventions makes for a leaner, better film. A lot of the jokes feel like lines from Kids Say the Darndest Things, and maybe I’m just an idiot, but there were a few moments that made me laugh hard enough to hit pause.
It was a box office catastrophe, with a total gross of $1,450,029. Not much, especially considering the fact that its production budget was $7 million. I was ready to praise the movie for doing a lot with a little, but for perspective, that’s the same budget as The Last Temptation of Christ.
Rides Again is worth tracking down. It encapsulates the best of an era of comedy when laughs weren’t contingent upon celebrity cameos, people dancing badly in slow motion, or James Franco. At least 40 of its 96 minutes will be time well spent. Which is more than can be said for most of the Ernest movies, or kids’ comedies in general. Despite its flaws, it delivers the relatively-goods.