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Blast from the Past Movie Review – “Ernest Goes to Camp” (1987)

August 14, 2011

Summer time is coming to a close, vactions are ending, and school is about to begin. So, I thought I’d take a look at an 80’s summer movie near the end of our 2011 Summer Season. Lets travel back 24 years ago, to the first installment in the beloved Ernest series, “Ernest Goes to Camp”.

Jim Varney was a comedy gem of the 1980’s, his appearence as Ernest P. Worrell, as well as his other characters;  Dr. Otto, Rudd Hardtact, Laughin’ Jack, Guy Dandy, and the notable Auntie Nelda, began in 1983 on a variety show called “Hey Vern”. He later made appearences in commercials as Ernest, and even starred in a Disney special where Ernest visits Splash Mountain. In the Summer of 1987 the world was introduced to the first Ernest adventure, where our bumbling loveable redneck goes to camp.

The movie follows Ernest, who’s working as a janitor at Kamp Kikakee, his dream is to become a camp counselor. A group of juvenile criminals are sent on a vacation to the camp to reform there stature in society. The clumsy Ernest has to care for them, although he doesn’t even know how to take care of himself. The other children at the camp show bitterness against them, but the group knows very well how to defend themselves, obviously. The owner of the camp is of Native American decent, he and his camp nurse daughter are the last of their tribe, their camp has become the target of a brutal mining corporation that wants to tear down the camp to mine a rare mineral. It’s up to Ernest and some rascal kids to save the day.

When I was younger, I loved all the Ernest movies, to this day I still think “Ernest Goes to Jail” & “Ernest Scared Stupid” are the two best ones. “Ernest Goes to Camp” might have been my least favorite one, perhaps it’s because the movie was so typical 80’s movie making. The movie is so typical in that 80’s summer hijinks sense, I’ve seen these kind of adventures before and you know exactly how they’re gonna end. The only thing that’s authentic to the film is Ernest, he sticks out like a soar thumb. Minus Ernest out of the picture, and you got a standard 80’s kids comedy. After this movie, the other Ernest films each became it’s own standing film, they weren’t necessarily sequels, as they were somewhat of reboots. You know the character of Ernest, you love him, and you wanna see him in different scenarios with different people. Oddly enough a lot of actors from these movies return in different roles, with the exception Gailard Sartain & Bill Byrge as Chuck & Bobby. But, each Ernest film is different and if you’re unfamiliar with the character you don’t have to see the first one to understand who he is or what he does, it’s pretty much set in stone with any film.

The characters in this movie are too stereotypical and boring half the time, the troublemaking kids Ernest is stuck with, I’ve seen these kids in 15 other movies, in the same style, so there aren’t any surprise here. The villain is predictable, he’s that tycoon who cares about money, results, and getting his way. I won’t dismiss actor John Vernon, he does make a good villain, he’s still good at playing bad, like Dean Wormer from “Animal House”, which he played, he’s got this sly evil way at yelling and looking at a person, you almost feel cold at his presence. The only supporting characters I really liked were Chuck & Eddie, the camp cooks, I wanted more scenes with them. Their zany ways in the kitchen are quite amusing and Gailard Sartain is extremely funny when he wants to be.

The physical comedy is fun, cartoon-like, much of it resembles Looney Tunes, which you have to give credit to Varney for all the prat falls he’s willing to do. Perhaps that’s where a lot of the Ernest appeal comes from, in the physicality of the character. For nostalgic purposes, this is a good watch, but it’s nothing to go crazy for. I’ve recently learned that all the Ernest films are coming to Bluray within the next four months, so I’m not on the edge of my seat for this movie, but a few of the others I can definitely see in my collection, especially the one where Ernest saves Christmas. But, regarding “Ernest Goes to Camp”, the film may not age well for some, but it’s worthy of a watch if you’re a fan of Ernest P. Worrell.

GRADE: C

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