What a relief the third installment in the Ernest P. Worrell series is, a film with no sex or foul language (at least none that could be clearly discerned after listening closely). In fact, it is cleaner than the previous episodes.
The know-it-all Ernest now works as a night janitor in a bank, incompetent as ever. The president of the bank wants to fire the inept goofball, but Charlotte, the president’s pretty assistant, has a soft heart for misfits and stray dogs, so she argues on Ernest’s behalf. The two screwy bank guards, Chuck and Bob, are also misfits, being something of a cross between Buster Keaton and the Three Stooges.
Ernest is overjoyed when he’s given jury duty. “It’s a dream come true,” he says. However, the defendant in the trial notices that Ernest is a dead-ringer for jailed crime boss Felix Nash (also Varney) who runs the prison from behind bars. The scheming defendant strikes a deal with the evil Nash, and a plan is hatched to switch the two look-alikes.
When the jurors are taken to view the scene of the prison crime they’re deliberating, Ernest is snatched from the crowd and locked up, while his notorious double joins the jury and sneaks away to freedom. Ernest is destined for the electric chair, but is not as easy to kill as one would suspect.
This is a clean movie with no New Age undertones. There’s a lot of mock violence, but it’s pure slapstick and even broader than that of Moe, Larry and Curly. For example, while working as the night janitor, Ernest fights for his life with a runaway, frenzied floor polisher. Once free and at home, he touches a live wire which renders him a human magnet. Then, while at dinner with Charlotte, he finds out what the term physical attraction really means as he fends off flying silverware.
Other stunts have Ernest straddling a catapulting flagpole, hanging from a crystal chandelier, “flying” by suspended harness, and being “spun dry” in his own invention of a human washing machine. No child will take these gags seriously, but they can be overwhelming for adults at times.
Overall, though, it is entertaining just to watch children watch a movie that is not going to hurt them. ERNEST GOES TO JAIL has a lot of production value and good acting, though the script is definitely aimed at the very young.