- Directed by John R. Cherry III
- April 6, 1990
An evil criminal who is Ernest P. Worrell’s doppelgänger switches places with him. Now Ernest must escape from prison to stop a bank robbery and save his friends.
No one will ever mistake the Ernest films for great comedy or high art. They simply were comfort food. They were just mindless family entertainment. You could take your kids and everybody else to see them and get a few good laughs as the rubbery faced Jim Varney played his most famous character. They were in short a bit of a guilty pleasure.
The appeal of the Ernest character is that he is essentially pure of heart. He is not a mean or nasty character. He approaches everything with a childlike innocence. Then and now it is a welcome difference from what we get today or even got back then. He is the more family friendly Frank Drebin.
Other than Ernest, there was no real connecting thread between any of the films. They were one off adventures that placed the character in a brand new environment each time. This time around the story finds Ernest working as a night janitor at a local bank. Ernest has aspirations of being a bank teller and there appears to be a kind of attraction going on between him and a female employee named Charlotte (played by former first lady Barbara Bush-JUST KIDDING but that is the name actress Barbara Tyson is credited under here).
We got some of the usual Ernest costars. Gailard Sartain plays security guard Chuck and Bill Byrge shows up as his brother Bobby. These are not huge names (points if you knew who they are) but they are familiar to fans of these movies.
Familiar character actor Randall “Tex” Cobb plays convict Lyle. Gravelly voiced actor Charles Napier who has done so much is Warden Carmichael. Dan Leegant plays nasty bank manager Oscar Pendlesmythe.
A cartoon style logic is employed in this movie as it is in all of the character’s films. Things that could not happen or could not exist are here. Ernest’s neighbors for example have a minefield in their front yard and apparently an indoor shooting range in their living room.
Ernest himself gets into a few cartoonish situations such as early in the film when he shocks himself and becomes magnetized.This foreshadows the finale when Ernest is thrown into an electric chair and does not die but rather becomes an energy bolt flinging superhuman who uses powers to escape in order to go save the day.
The plot starts when Ernest finds himself pulling jury duty during the trial of Rubin Bartlett (Barry Scott) who notices Ernest has a striking resemblance to prison crime boss Felix Nash (also Jim Varney). Rubin’s attorney (Buck Ford) arranges for the jury to tour Nash’s prison where a planned switch occurs. From there it is Ernest acting like himself in Nash’s prison life while Nash acts like himself as Ernest while plotting a bank robbery. The changes are obvious but the only one that suspects anything is Bobby. Bill Byrge plays the most aware individual but he never seems able to ever get through to anybody. After Ernest effects his escape, he stops by his house and sees the redecorating Nash has done and exclaims “I’ve been vandalized-by Elvis!”
I enjoyed this movie and so many years later after seeing this again it still holds up for me. I still smiled and laughed at the silly jokes. As I said the Ernest films are comfort food. Ernest Goes to Jail is just an entertaining film that has no deeper meanings and is simply meant to make you happy for a little while. It is just a silly prison film.
Ernest Goes to Jail is not the world’s greatest comedy. It is just a silly film that asks you to leave your brain at the door. If you’re in need of something to make you feel better for whatever reason just watch this.