Jim Varney played Ernest P Worrell – a character big on smile but small on brains – in over 2,000 television commercials before venturing into feature films with Ernest Goes to Camp (1987) and Ernest Saves Christmas (1988).
This time out, Ernest is working as a night janitor at the Howard County Bank & Trust, smitten with pretty young bank officer Charlotte Sparrow (Barbara Bush) and dreaming of being promoted to a bank teller. Alas, his mean old boss, Oscar Pendlesmythe (Dan Leegant), will never let that happen.
Summoned for jury duty, he visits a maximum security prison where some thugs make him switch places with an evil crime boss named Mr Nash (also played by Varney), who’s a dead ringer for Ernest.
Varney is actually better as the stereotypical convict than he is as the cartoon nerd. Ernest is so dumb he thinks the electric chair is for back pain . . .
Much of the comic goodwill is squandered in an effects-mad finale that pits the good and bad Varneys against other in a bank robbery sitcom. Once Ernest gets airborne, the movie crashes and burns.
The sets – including the Howard County Bank & Trust, two three-story jail cell tiers, an electrocution room, Ernest’s house, and various hallways – were built inside a former boot factory in Nashville.
Three days of filming also took place at the then recently vacant Tennessee State Penitentiary (the same location later used for The Green Mile).
This was the last successful Ernest movie at the box office. It all went downhill from here.
Jim Varney died of lung cancer on 10 February 2000, aged just 50.
Ernest P Worrell/Felix Nash/Aunt Nelda
Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb
Jeffrey Buckner Ford