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 the Ernest movies are made fun of, this is the one people bring up. And for good reason. Everything about it, from conception to execution to the thrift-store shelf space the VHS copies now waste, is tragicomically awful. The relatively gentle racism of Goes to Camp and Slam Dunk was just a warm-up for this deeply embarrassing meltdown. It’s kind of like Ernest was a guy at a party who told a couple of racial jokes that were just okay enough for people to laugh them off in the hopes that he’d stop, which he instead took as a green light to just start dropping n-bombs. And as one of Varney’s advocates, I feel like the guy who brought him. “Sorry everyone, he’s usually not like this. I promise.”
The plot revolves around two gemstones called “The Eyes of Igoli” that were pilfered from a statue belonging to the fictitious Sinkatutu tribe. An Indiana Jones-type dude gets caught with his hand in the idol jar and a grass-skirted mob takes a break from their ceremonial chanting to throw spears at him. He’s betrayed by his getaway pilot, a British guy named Thompson who ends up being one of the movie’s two villains. The other villain, an Indian sultan played by a white guy in brownface, sends a henchman to steal the jewels from Thompson. The henchman, another white guy in brownface, stashes the jewels in a jar of knick-knacks at a swap meet. Ernest picks them up as a gift for Rene Loomis, a waitress who won’t date him. He makes a yo-yo out of them, which Rene doesn’t want. Then Thompson kidnaps her to bait Ernest to his warehouse lair, thinking that Ernest is a secret agent. He falls for the trap and they’re both extradited to Africa for enhanced interrogation.
On the drive to the Indian palace (in Africa) where they are to be held, Ernest escapes. To rescue Rene, he disguises himself as an Untouchable by wearing nothing but one bath towel around his waist, one around his head, and tanning his entire body with shoe polish. He genuflects his way into the palace, calling everyone “Sahib” in a bad accent.
The best that can be said here is that they’re mocking the Indian caste system. Or something. I don’t know. I expected the stupid “ooga booga” treatment of Africans, but I was totally blindsided by the decision to also go ham on India while they were at it. Things were different when you couldn’t catch a blog.
Ernest and Rene escape by pretending to be harem dancers, then go on a long, boring golf-cart trip through the savannah. Eventually they’re abducted by the Sinkatutu and brought back to the village, where Thompson tracks them. Turns out the Sinkatutu are cannibals. You can tell because a bunch of them are preparing soup in a huge iron cauldron covered in human skulls, and stir the soup with femur bones.
On the verge of death, Ernest tries to distract the villagers, who are all in various states of ooga and booga, by playing with his yo-yo. They are entranced, and Ernest and Rene go from being dinner to being gods. “The Ernest magic is great, any wish you desire is our command,” decrees the chief. Meaning he somehow managed to become fluent in English, but is still stunned into reverence by a spinny thing.
I usually try to keep the plot recap sparse in these reviews, but this plot is so insane that I have to include most of it. Ernest asks the chief to marry him to Rene without her consent, and then as she’s protesting, the chief seizes Ernest and puts the flat of a machete up to his face because he’s going to circumcise him. Then, right in the nick of time, Thompson shows up and yells a bunch of tribal-sounding gibberish about “Bayeeeti! Splongo jibbi-jibbi,” accuses Ernest of being the one who stole the Eyes of Igoli, and “calls for The Battle of Truth.”
And then, just when it seems like the movie couldn’t get more dumb, Thompson changes into ninja pajamas. Where did they come from? Probably the same place everyone’s getting their shoe polish.
He bows grandiosely and then reveals a table covered with swords and ninja stars, rounding the racial caricature tally up to a cool three. With all the aplomb of Star Wars Kid, Thompson-san windmills at Ernest for what feels like an hour before getting TKO’ed by the yo-yo. It breaks upon impact, revealing it to be made of the Eyes. The day is saved, the tribe is happy, and the heroes return to Ohio. Rene once again refuses to date Ernest.
I expected Ernest Goes to Africa to have lots of race gaffes in it. But I wasn’t prepared for it to be nothing but race gaffes. I don’t need these scripts to be proofed by Angela Davis but for f*ck’s sake can every third character not wear f*cking brownface?
The constant minstrel buffoonery would be easier to deal with if the plot was at least coherent. Maybe I had trouble following it because I was violently shaking my head the whole time I was watching, but I’m still not totally sure I understand who all the characters were and why they wanted to kill Ernest. But hey, kids do love Raymond Chandler stories with lots of shifting allegiances that are hard to keep track of. They also love it when you drop pet goldfish into garbage disposals, and when you bury people up to their necks in sand so that a rhino can stomp them to death. Add to both of those actual plot points the scene where Ernest sends a jeep full of henchmen careening into an explosive and assuredly fatal wreck and you have a contender for “most poorly-conceived kids’ movie ever made.”
Ernest Copes With Foreigners is one long cringe and should’ve never been made. Ernest’s magic may have been powerful enough to charm the bone right out of the Sinkatutu chief’s nose, but it’s not strong enough to convince me to say anything nice about this tactless, ugly, unfunny stream of curry diarrhea. Spiciness level: double black diamond. And if you think I’m just being one of those cry-wolf internet crusaders lighting fires for the sake of it, I challenge you not to watch huge chunks of this movie from between your fingers. And if I’m wrong, I’m ready for The Battle of Truth.