- Movie Rating -

Ernest Goes to Camp (1987)

| May 22, 1987

The average age for a movie featuring commercial-gimrod Ernest P. Worrell is about 12 or 13 and probably no higher unless you’re and adult who just never grew up.  I enjoyed it on that level.  There’s still a 12-year-old who lives in my brain who appreciates flatulence and the comic value of your average household rubber chicken.

In that spirit, I found a touch of enjoyment in Ernest Goes to Camp.  I’m not ashamed of that.  Yeah, it’s too long and the back half of the movie which involves a war of catapulting toilets was a little over-the-top – okay it was just plain stupid – but in its innocent and harmless way I had a good time.

The titular hero has become the latest Bozo du jour thanks to a long-running series of commercials for all manner of product and PSA: Sprite, buttermilk, donuts, pizza, ice cream, potato chips, orange juice, p, Ford dealerships, boy scout camps, water safety, savings and loans and gas furnaces; plus spot for “The Price is Right”, “The Andy Griffith Show”, “Hogan’s Heroes” and your local news team.  All of this while making life miserable for the omniscient Vern who often causes him great pain.

The commercials either appealed to you or they didn’t.  I can say that when I was in the mood, they grabbed me.  I once watched an entire tape and grew weary of Ernest after the first 10 minutes.  What is appealing is Jim Varney, a talented physical comedian whom you suspect is probably worth more than the grand amount of effort that he throws into the Ernest character, which exists somewhere between Gomer Pyle and Goofy.

If you’ve seen the commercials, then the movie will strike you as odd.  Most every physical comedy stunt that he performs in the movie is something that you’ve seen in the commercials.  That doesn’t make them better, just recognizable.  The commercials work because Ernest is only on screen for 30 seconds, which is about enough.  The movie is 92 minutes long, so it has to find something for Ernest to do beside hawk ice cream and Mello Yello.

What it does is not surprising.  Ernest is a janitor at a boys summer camp with full-fledged dreams of one day becoming a counselor.  His grand vision is kind of sweet: “Shaping and molding youthful minds into a focused world view.”  But we realize that his bumbling act probably won’t get him ahead of that mission statement (We’ve seen the commercials).

What surprised me about Ernest Goes to Camp is just how sweet and innocent it is.  No four-letter words.  No double-entendres.  It’s a great movie for kids, largely because John Cherry III, the man who created the Ernest character and directed Varney in the commercials, isn’t fit to let the movie just be a slapdash piece of throw away product.  The gags are set up well, the jokes often pay off, and there’s a story here, of how Ernst shapes some juvenile delinquents in how to be better people.  It works on that level.  It’s no masterpiece, but you sense that someone was trying, and I liked it for that.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1987) View IMDB Filed in: Comedy