'Ernest Scared Stupid' is frighteningly awful

October 14, 1991|By Joe Baltake | Joe Baltake,McClatchy News Service

It's called "Ernest Scared Stupid." Great title!

Stupid, unfortunately, is the operative word here.

In his fourth outting as a movie star, Jim Varney's Ernest P. Worrell has himself trapped in a Halloween movie that's a real nightmare, one that isn't very inventive or funny (save for the novel title sequence) and that practically relegates Ernest to a supporting actor in his own movie.

Last year, there was one genuinely funny movie, "Ernest Goes to Jail," a carefully concocted throwback to some of Jerry Lewis' better movies. Its humor was quick; the film worked. But like a child who isn't appreciated by its parent, "Ernest Goes to Jail" somehow compared unfavorably to "Home Alone." That John Hughes hit must have impressed the brains behind the "Ernest" series because, this time out, they've let their material be appropriated by children. Now, I don't know who in their right minds would want to see an "Ernest" romp dominated by not one, not two, but dozens of grating child actors. I mean, the film is called "Ernest Scared Stupid," after all.

When you go to see a movie with the name Ernest in the title, you expect to see Ernest P. Worrell (not counting "The Importance of Being Earnest," of course), not some Macaulay Culkin clones doing what movie and TV kids do best -- making their parents look stupid. That's what Ernest is on hand for.

The movie not only lacks Ernest, but also a central nervous system. The listless non-plot opens in the past with Ernest's great-great-granddaddy (played by Varney, natch) killing off a giant troll in the Worrell family native hamlet, Briarville, and burying it in the local cemetery. The dying troll grunts out a curse: Each succeeding Worrell will become more stupid.

So what we end up with in 1991 is the most stupid Worrell of all -- Ernest.

The troll, of course, is resurrected and runs amok. No one knows it's a troll. That's explained to everyone by the town's resident old hag, Old Lady Hackmore (the inexplicable Eartha Kitt). And it must be exterminated.

As the man himself says, this is a job for Ernest P. Worrell, who is working as a trash collector this time around and whose only companions are the kids in town. Every adult in Briarville, who is an idiot and much denser than Ernest, treats him with utter contempt, making the feeble film unsavory.

The movie is singularly unfunny, except for the usual Varney montage of impersonations that comes early in the plot, and doesn't even bother exploiting the actor's rubbery face the way his previous screen incarnations have.

Also gone is the usual stock company of supporting players, with Gailard Sartain (who always played Chuck) especially missed.

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