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Film / Ernest Goes to Jail

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"Like in real, really, really, really, really real prison? The hoose-gow, the slammer, the joint, Alcatraz, San Quentin, Sing Sing?? Oh no! I'm in... I'm in... jaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaail!"
Ernest Goes to Jail is a 1990 American comedy film directed by John R. Cherry III and starring Jim Varney. It's the third (technically fourth) film to feature the character Ernest P. Worrell.

Ernest is a janitor at the Howard County Bank and Trust only kept at his job out of sympathy. He also looks exactly like death row inmate Felix Nash. During a tour of the prison Nash is kept in after Ernest is called to jury duty, Nash kidnaps Ernest and switches places with him.

Now Nash attempts to assume the life of Ernest P. Worrell while Ernest, confused for Felix Nash, is only days from the electric chair. Can Ernest escape from prison and stop his nefarious doppelgänger?


  • Accidental Misnaming: Ernest just can't seem to get his boss' name (Mr. Pendlesmythe) right, referring to him as "Mr. Poodle-Smurf" at one point.
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety/Reckless Gun Usage: When Chuck and Bobby show off the new security system, they demonstrate it by shooting at the bulletproof glass, with one of the bank managers standing behind it.
    • Not to mention, in that same scene, Bobby's pistol is clearly a revolver, and yet he manages to fire at least ten rounds in rapid succession without reloading.
  • Artistic License – Law: Ernest is taken to Death Row and then brought to the electric chair later that night. The average prisoner spends about fifteen years on Death Row before being executed.
  • Bad Boss: Oscar Pendlesmythe, an obnoxious, rude and arrogant bank manager. It makes it a bit satisfying when Nash, as Ernest, destroys his prized golf trophy.
  • Big Damn Heroes: After Ernest gets knocked out by Nash during the climax, Bobby suddenly shows up and manages to win a Quick Draw against him. Unfortunately, some police guard dogs proceed to trample him.
  • Celebrity Paradox: While Ernest attempts to imitate Nash, he briefly impersonates Sylvester Stallone and mentions Murdock from Rambo: First Blood Part II who was played by Charles Napier, the actor who plays the warden in this movie.
  • Character Action Title: As with the other Ernest movies.
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: In this movie, Ernest becomes magnetic whenever given an electric shock.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The various forms of security Chuck and Bobby test out on their boss.
  • Comically Missing the Point: During the climax when Ernest flies through the bank's glass ceiling to carry the ticking time bomb high in the sky, the Warden's reaction is to grumble, "He's getting away!"
  • Criminal Doppelgänger: Naturally, Felix Nash is one for Ernest.
  • Darker and Edgier: Without a doubt the darkest of the Ernest films. Though it's all over-the-top and Played for Laughs, it still features subject matter such as bank robbery, murder, and the freaking death penalty.
  • Disney Death: Ernest during the climax, twice no less. The first moment comes when Nash throws him against the electrified cage, and the second when he flies Nash's bomb out of the bank.
  • Disguised in Drag: One of Ernest's escape attempts. It fails because his "breasts" fall out.
    The doctor told me I had to keep these in until after the surgery.
  • Double Take: The juror seated next to Ernest gives him a very non-subtle one when the latter, with his face covered in ink, turns to him and says, "Oh boy! A field trip!"
  • The Dragon: Rubin is this for Nash, Lyle is this for Rubin.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Rimshot is able to tell Ernest apart from Nash. Justified in that Nash treats him pretty coldly the first time he meets him.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Lyle.
    • Although Lyle eventually turns on Rubin and helps Ernest escape, Lyle has obviously become acclimated to prison life, turning down Ernest's offer to come with him, saying he has no place in society and that prison is, indeed, where he belongs.
  • Homemade Inventions: Ernest has a Rube Goldberg-esque way of turning on his TV, he also bathes in a modified washing machine, and dries off using a car-wash grade blow-dryer.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: When Ernest thinks he's soon to be released from prison, he tells Reuben he'll put in a good word for him, despite how mean he's been and how he threatened Ernest into pretending to be Nash while in prison. Ernest also tells Lyle he's made some good friends in jail, even though they are all prisoners (and likely only nice to Ernest because they think he is Nash).
  • Jerkass: Oscar Pendlesmythe. And Nash.
  • Made of Iron: Ernest survives electrocution at least four times, at least two of which would have been fatal to anyone else. He also survives a bomb blast at short range, as well as the long fall afterward.
  • No Ending: The film ends with Ernest flying Nash's bomb out of the bank high into the sky where it explodes, then he comes crashing down on top of Nash, says a final corny line, faints, and then the ending credits roll with no explanation to if Nash survived Ernest landing on top of him, if Ernest's name was cleared of Nash's wrongdoings while in Ernest's place, or if the warden faced any punishment for not noticing a deadly hardened criminal suddenly acting like a complete goofball and sending an innocent man to the chair. Ernest's sudden fainting actually led some moviegoers to believe Ernest had died.
    • There does exist a scene that wraps up the story properly by showing that Ernest did become a bank clerk, but for whatever reason, it was left on the cutting room floor.
  • Oh, Crap!: Ernest when his "electro-man" powers wear off, right in the middle of being confronted by an angry Rubin.
    • He has another one when he realizes that he is no longer on jury duty and has actually been swapped with a prisoner.
  • One-Steve Limit: Vinnie is both the name of the waiter who serves Ernest and Charlotte and the prisoner who reminds "Nash" that he's supposed to arm wrestle Spider.
  • Police Are Useless: The police aren't especially helpful in this. Not only do prison guards utterly fail to notice how different in behavior Ernest is to Nash, but they end up making things worse when Nash holds up the bank, as the police dogs end up trampling Bobby right before he can defeat Nash.
  • Properly Paranoid: Bobby is continuously suspicious of Nash while he's posing as Ernest.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: After Nash switches places with Ernest, all of the prison guards suddenly wear pink uniforms.
  • Rogue Juror: The single rogue juror was a result of jury tampering. Nash switched places with Ernest and managed to change the verdict.
  • Rube Goldberg Device: Ernest has one in his home, activated by turning on a light switch.
  • Selective Magnetism: Whenever Ernest is electrocuted.
  • Shock and Awe: When Ernest gets the electric chair, he gets these powers in addition to his usual Selective Magnetism.
  • Shout-Out: Ernest's line, "Well there's my problem right there: look's like this wire's got a little shor-r-r-r-r-r-r-rt [getting electrocuted] in it" is taken verbatim from one of the many Ernest commercials Jim Varney appeared in prior to the character appearing in films.
  • Signature Headgear: Ernest's brown cap. That Felix often doesn't wear it when impersonating Ernest is an omen that things aren't what they seem.
    • Even though Felix never wore a cap in prison, somehow Ernest ends up with a prison-themed version of his hat when in prison. Nash can be seen putting the prison variant on shortly before he trades places with Ernest.
  • Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: Neither Nash or Reuben appear in the theatrical trailer.
  • Slap Stick: Whenever Ernest gets shocked, but Nash also gets bumped by the Rube Goldberg Device frequently.
  • Swapped Roles: Between Ernest and Felix Nash.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The theatrical trailer shows that when Ernest gets electrocuted on the electric chair, it just gives him electrical powers.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: As Chuck and Bobby point their guns on Ernest, mistakenly the sounds of him trying to start a vacuum for a robber, Ernest just gives him a casual "hi, guys" without any concern.
  • Vile Villain, Saccharine Show: Nash is a convicted robber and murderer played straight in an Ernest film. He's a far cry from Dr. Otto.
  • The Voiceless: Lyle. Until the end, anyway.
  • Wham Line: "Freeze punk! Make your play!" is this for Bobby, mainly because it's the most he's ever spoken throughout the entire Ernest franchise.
    • "Let him go," spoken by Lyle.