Bad Cinema: Ernest Goes to Jail (Dir: John Cherry, 1990)


Ernest P. Worrell began as a pitchman for innumerable products on local syndicates. The commercials always found him trying to sell something to his off screen, cantankerous neighbor Vern before getting into some kind of dangerous situation, ending in a pratfall or some other piece of physical comedy. Jim Varney – the man who portrayed him through hundreds of ads, a TV series, and in over half a dozen films – was a wonderful actor. He imbued Ernest with the requisite obnoxiousness of a nosy busybody, the heart of a hero, the misguided hubris of a douche, and the cartoonish pathos worthy of the silent clowns; Jim Varney as Ernest P. Worrell was the poor man’s Buster Keaton.

Ernest is the night janitor at a bank. He desperately wants to be a bank clerk to better himself (and to get the girl who only sees him as a friend). But Mr. Pendlesmith is having none of it; Ernest is a chronic screw up and cannot be trusted. But that doesn’t stop Mr. Pendlesmith from keeping Ernest’s friends Chuck and Bobby employed as the night security guards (if you think Ernest is clueless…).


Nor does that keep Charlotte from pushing her boss to give Ernest another chance (evidently without fear of sullying her own name) and encouraging Ernest to “better himself,” which really just boils down to her repeatedly chanting, “You have to be more careful!” It’s not surprising how out of touch she is with Ernest’s handicaps. She doesn’t even realize that Ernest has a mad crush on her. Talk about clueless.

And then the best thing that has ever happened to anyone happens to Mr. Ernest P. Worrell. No, it’s not a job promotion. No, it’s not Charlotte’s instantaneous affection. It’s Jury Duty! The dream of every American. (Seriously, though. How have I not been chosen for Jury Duty? I am starting to think it is intentional…) But Ernest better watch his back. Because the man being prosecuted just so happens to be the henchman for Mr. Nash, a notorious gang leader and murderer…who is a dead ringer for Ernest (of course played by Varney, in a very creepy 180). Before he can even say “KnowhatImean?”, Ernest and Mr. Nash are switched during a field trip to the prison.

Ernest takes being in jail with his signature stride, the Everyman taking it on the chin for us all with a joke and an uncomfortable laugh. He makes friends with his cellmate and stays upbeat for his release. Mr. Nash as Ernest begins plotting his robbery of the bank and his seduction of the girl. Of course, Ernest escapes (using a very clever running gag, executed in the golden comedy rule of 3), saves the day, and saves the girl (although, in typical Chaplin fashion, does not ride off into the sunset with her).


In a series of mediocre, cinematic guilty pleasures, Ernest Goes to Jail stands above the crowd for its pacing. Many “bad” movies become “unbearable” because they try and milk every single last drop out of what was once potentially funny until it is dryer than the Octomom’s tired breasts. (Watch any skit on SNL or any film by the Wayans Bros. for visual aides). Jail, the fourth film by John Cherry to feature Varney/Ernest, finds the perfect balance of sophomoric lunacy and rudimentary mis-en-scene to create a thoroughly enjoyable piece of delicious trash (something that cannot be said for Ernest Scared Stupid, despite the presence of the immaculate Eartha Kitt…)

Is Ernest Goes to Jail a Car Crash, Colonoscopy, or Berkley?
Henceforth, I am introducing a new category: KARDASHIAN

What are your thoughts on Ernest Goes to Jail and the Ernest franchise?

4 thoughts on “Bad Cinema: Ernest Goes to Jail (Dir: John Cherry, 1990)

Whatchu got to say about it?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s