Jim Varney – who had been on Fernwood 2 Night and other TV shows since 1976 – created a rubber-faced numbskull character called Ernest P Worrell, who was used in TV commercials to sell dozens of different products.
That, perhaps, is the character’s metier. Certainly, feature films are not. While a floppy baseball cap, an ear-to-ear smile and a pratfall may be enough for a 30-second TV spot, they don’t begin to energise a 90-minute movie.
Here, Ernest – a klutz who can do nothing right – is desperate to be a camp counsellor, so he takes a job as an (inept and accident-prone) handyman at Kamp Kikakee, a summer camp where middle-class kids go to learn Indian lore and stay out of their parents’ hair for a month or so.
This year, however, the camp is persuaded to take in six juvenile delinquents, wards of a nearby state institution who are participating in something called “Second Chance” to straighten themselves out.
The camp director doesn’t know what to do with these kids, so he promotes Ernest from handyman to counsellor and brushes the kids off on him.
Naturally, they don’t like the stupid Worrell and delight in taking advantage of his trusting nature. Ernest remains blissfully unaware, but their treatment does not go unnoticed by the camp nurse, Miss St. Cloud (Victoria Racimo), an Indian woman whose grandfather – an old Indian Chief (Iron Eyes Cody) – owns the sacred ancestral land on which Kamp Kikakee is situated.
Another plotline follows Sherman Krader (John Vernon), the nasty owner of a shady strip mining company who wants the camp land. But the Chief doesn’t want to sell.
The two plots bang into each other when Krader dupes Ernest and the old Chief into signing a piece of paper and releasing the land. But here come the kids to help out and learn that being selfish is not nice.
None of this is funny because the director and co-writer, former advertising executive John Cherry, tries so hard to make it so. Trying and doing are not the same thing.
Nearly all of the gags involve physical harm coming to Ernest in some way. In 90 minutes he takes more falls than Hulk Hogan and is subjected to everything from being set on fire in a lawn chair to being slammed around by former footballer Lyle Alzado, who has a small part as Krader’s main henchman, Bronk.
It’s a moronic, obnoxious and irritating effort that must have been geared to preschoolers.
Ernest P Worrell
Nurse St. Cloud
Old Indian Chief
Iron Eyes Cody
Moustafa Hakeem Jones
Richard Speight Jr.
Attorney Elliott Blatz
Young Indian Brave
Harvey Godwin Jr.
Jeff Standing Bear