Movie Review: Ernest Goes to Camp

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From the mid eighties to the late nineties, the world was bombarded by one Mr. Ernest P. Worrell.  With a half a dozen theatrically released movies, around ten direct-to-video specials, a television show, and countless cameos and commercials, Ernest's stereotypical-Japanese-like work ethic forever burned his grinning image into pop culture.  (Knowutimean, Vern?)  Jim Varney, the actor portraying Ernest, caught his big break with the character in 1987 with the feature film Ernest Goes To Camp.  Released theatrically, the movie netted around 20 million dollars in profit before racking up more money on home video.  Obviously, this success is why Ernest films were practically released every year for the following decade.  But why was this film such a hit?  

Ernest Goes to Camp follows the titular character as he tries to work his way up to a counselor at Kamp Kikakee.  Not only does Mr. Worrell fix-up all of the camp bungalows and fiercely plunge the sickening toilets, he even learns sign language so that he may communicate with Chief St. Cloud, the camp's owner.  His persistence pays off, as Ernest gets a probationary counselor trial, thanks in part to the deviousness of the kids from the juvenile detention center.  Unfortunately for everyone at Kamp Kikakee, the sinister Krader mining company sets its sights on the petrocite-rich Kamp.  After multiple tries, the Krader company comes into ownership of the Kamp, thanks in part to the gullible Ernest.  In order to save Kamp Kikakee, Ernest, the kids, the counselors, and even the Chief, must band together to fight off the evil mining crew.

One of this movie's feature "hidden highlights" is the grounds-keeper cart.  From the moment Ernest steps off the cart, a little more than three minutes into the movie, the cart endlessly runs throughout the camp ground for several days.  It doesn't run out of gas.  It doesn't hit an obstruction.  No one even tries to stop it!  This magical cart keeps chugging along until a pivotal moment, near the end of the film, when it is turned into an unstoppable bomb.

300 miles per gallon.

Nearly every actor in the movie performs serviceably, with the exception of Kamp cook Jake (Gailard Sartain).  Mr. Sartain must have been trying to make Jim Varney's approach to Ernest look earnest by comparison.  (See what I did there?)  The ending is predictably happy, as it should be.  The uncouth Ernest saves the day in a rather ridiculous, and improbable, manner.


Naturally, the main reason to watch this movie is the connection we make with the main character.  He perseveres in the face of his own stupidity, much like the human race.  I think what makes Ernest such an endearing character, especially in this movie, is his good-natured clumsiness.  Poor Ernest takes more pratfalls than Wile E. Coyote with an Acme credit card. 

He's either falling backwards, or Taco Bell pains have set in.

One of Jim Varney's best qualities is using physical comedy to chew up the scenery, often with vaudevillian-like vigor.  He is the champion of taking a mauling from the hands (or paws) of an unseen attacker.  Ernest is also known for consistently breaking the fourth wall, which he does here, in order jump-start the plot or sum-up the preceding events.  He talks to the audience as if we were his closest friends, which just lends to his charm.  And when Mr. Worrell talks to children, he speaks to them as if they were intellectual equals.  Although, I suppose in some ways, they are intellectual equals.  In E.G.T.C, he not only speaks to the juvenile delinquents as equals, he also disregards their troubled past.  Even after the kids repeatedly pull pranks on him, Ernest seeks no retaliation and maintains that the kids are merely misunderstood.    As far fetched as it may sound, in some respects, Ernest is someone we should aspire to.  The man puts up with so much crap and he does so with a smile on his face.

...and sometimes, with a tray on his face.

Enough of the heavy-handed stuff.  If you've never seen the movie and want to know what a human cartoon character looked like before Jim Carrey came along, do yourself a favor and check Ernest Goes To Camp out.

Rating:  out of

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