If you don’t agree with the title of this article, you’re wrong. Sorry, that’s just how it is.
Don’t be upset with me though, I’m the first person in your life to be really honest with you.
Now, the knee-jerk reaction to the above statement is “Nuh-uh, Ernest Goes to Camp, is the best Ernest movie!” That is an incorrect assumption, but an easy one to make. Camp is the first movie where we are introduced to Ernest. Therefore, the feeling is that it is the best entry in the Ernest series. Ernest Goes to Camp plays as a movie that has Ernest in it. Ernest Goes to Jail is an Ernest movie. Not to take away from his contributions to the first film, but Ernest’s character could be replaced and you would have nearly the same movie. Jail centers around Ernest and his life and is inseparable from him.
Jail is an Ernest adventure where he is the focus. As Ernest trades place with a doppelgänger who is imprisoned, we get the best villain of the series. Probably not coincidentally, the character is also portrayed by Jim Varney.
Felix Nash, an incarcerated criminal on death row, while not out-of-place in this strange world, is genuinely threatening. Antagonists in Ernest films are usually weaker aspects of the experience and underdeveloped. Not Nash. Perhaps Varney realized how to make a menacing foil for Ernest P. Worrell that didn’t go so far as to leave the tone behind. Plus, the character is a good example of Varney’s talent. It’s easy to see a realistic Nash in a more somber film. In a world where a few years later, Mike Meyers played the protagonist and antagonists in three films, it’s a shame that we didn’t get more outings where Varney went to the dark side.
Nash is not the only Varney variation we get, as Ernest tries to escape prison incognito.
For me, this always felt like a precursor to the slew of characters we would get on Ernest’s kid show.
The plot of this outing is also maybe the strongest in the Ernest series. While the conflict of Ernest dealing with life in prison is unfolding, Nash lives out Ernest’s life and attempts to rob the bank where Ernest is employed. All of this feels well thought out. It would have been easy to forget about Nash while Ernest is trapped in prison. However, the story jumps back and forth quite a bit between their experiences. This helps show the contrast between our hero and villain and sets up conflict for Ernest later when Nash fouls up Ernest’s life.
Another notable aspect of Jail is the special effects. Early in the film, Ernest has an accident that gives him temporary electrical powers. Maybe Ernest also went to the dark side here.
While Jim Varney’s Ernest movies aren’t necessarily renowned for the effects, this one definitely has the best. Oh, you were going to say Ernest Goes to School? C’mon, you can’t argue this point. The best part is that it’s not just a one scene gag, but actually plays into the story. Again, showing how well planned out this was.
This also reinforces Ernest as a kind of human cartoon character. I really wish this kind of thing would have happened more in his films. School or Ernest Scared Stupid are probably the closest to this, but neither one achieves the heights of this adventure.
With a new Pee-Wee movie from Netflix (which is great), and revivals of other comedies (MST3K), it’s a shame that Jim Varney is no longer with us. If Netflix will sign a multi-picture deal with Adam Sandler, surely we could have gotten a couple more Ernest movies by now. Perhaps we could have gotten the return of Felix Nash or Ernest V Pee-Wee: Dawn of Just Yuks.
When looking at these aspects of the film, it is easy to see that Ernest Goes to Jail is the ultimate Ernest movie. While there are other good films in the series, and not so great, this one surpasses them all.
If you still have doubts about this one being the best, maybe Bobby can convince you.