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MOVIE REVIEW : ‘Ernest Rides Again’: Check Your IQ at Door

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It is downright scary to realize that “Ernest Rides Again” (at selected theaters) is the fifth in a series of comedies starring Jim Varney as Ernest P. (Powertools) Worrell, that zany weirdo that Varney created as a TV pitchman back in 1980. The humor in this film is so elementary, so numskull, it defies description or extended discussion.

It’s hard to believe that anyone over age 5 would be amused by Ernest’s goofy shenanigans, but clearly the guy, who has some 2,000 commercials to his credit, has a following somewhat older; apparently, John R. Cherry III, the film’s director and co-writer (with William Akers), must know what he’s doing, appalling as that might seem. “Ernest Rides Again” (rated PG for slapstick violence) is the first in the series not made in association with Disney’s Touchstone Pictures.

Since in his own mind Ernest, now a janitor at a small-town college, is more than a match for Indiana Jones, it is not surprising that he buys the theory of the college’s history professor (Ron James) that the actual Crown Jewels of England are not in the Tower of London after all but are buried somewhere in the vicinity inside a giant Revolutionary War cannon. (How about that for a comic premise?) Not surprisingly, the prof is widely regarded as a crackpot, yet he’s less than thrilled with the prospect of Ernest determinedly coming to his aid with his Rube Goldberg metal detector.

Varney probably deserves some credit for throwing himself so wholeheartedly into playing the geeky, rubber-faced Ernst. It’s quite a contrast to the weedy charm Varney exudes as Jed Clampett in the new big-screen version of “The Beverly Hillbillies"--a film, incidentally, which shows how much fun cornball humor can be when it’s done with an affectionate wit and sophistication.

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‘Ernest Rides Again’

Jim Varney: Ernest P. Worrell

Ron James: Abner Melon

Linda Kash: Nan Melon

Tom Butler: Dr. Glencliff

An Emshell Producers Group presentation. Director John R. Cherry III. Producer Stacy Williams. Executive producer Coke Sams. Screenplay Cherry, William M. Akers. Cinematographer David Geddes. Editor Craig Bassett. Costumes Martha Snetsinger. Music Bruce Arnston, Kirby Shelstad. Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.

MPAA-rated PG (for slapstick violence).


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