Christmas is a time for tradition – presents, decorations, carols, and mince pies. But what better tradition to celebrate than the Christmas movie? Join The Hollywood News for the Movie Advent Calendar – a film each day ’til Christmas. For the full Advent Calendar so far, click here.
When compiling a list of one’s favourite festive cinematic offerings there are many important factors to take into consideration; does it evoke a sense of child-like wonder and magic even in the most stoic of hum buggerer? Is it a heart-warming tale that inspires goodwill amongst all men? And perhaps most importantly, is it chock full of slapstick kids comedy that’s seems surprisingly funny, but probably only because it’s on at 11am on Christmas and your already a little a bit tipsy from eggnog and mulled wine?
It is with these considerations in mind, a whole hunk of nostalgia and a smidge postmodern irony that ERNEST SAVES CHRISTMAS (1988) has made our filmic advent calendar. To be honest it had been a little while since we’d seen this one so we dusted off an old VHS and braced ourselves for 90 minutes of hapless high-jinks from that affable yutz Ernest P. Worrell.
For the younger readers out there Ernest (aka actor Jim Varney) was a less outrageous pre-curser to Jim Carey, who featured in nine ‘Ernest’ movies; goofy slapstick affairs involving pulling faces and doing silly voices. You may recognise his distinct southern drawl as that of Slinky Dog’s in the first two TOY STORY films (sadly Varney passed away in 2000). Anyway, before Carey there was Varney and if you were a kid in the 1980s you probably saw your fair share of his films and thusly we felt that no movie count down (Christmas or otherwise) was worth its salt without Ernest.
In this Christmas addition of the franchise, Santa Claus has indeed come to town – not to bestow gifts upon the children of the Florida but to appoint a replacement. It seems that after 150 years of being jolly old St Nick his memory and magic has begun to fade and the torch needs to be passed to another who will invigorate the season. Santa runs into trouble immediately, firstly by leaving his magic sack in the trunk of Ernest’s Taxi and then getting thrown in the slammer for being a crazy vagrant. Once Ernest realises the bearded old fella was the real deal he sets about breaking Santa out and helping him find his successor. Just to add the ticking clock of jeopardy it all has to be done before 7pm on Christmas Eve otherwise the new Santa won’t have time to make his deliveries. Cue a series of half-baked antics, barely relevant and certainly un-funny scenes of reindeer in an airport storage facility, top off with the gurnning mug of Varney and throw in the occasional sound of jingly sleigh bells to connote a bit of yule tide magic and that’s about it!
It turns out ERNEST SAVES CHRISTMAS wasn’t quite the brilliant festive romp we remembered it to be –aside from Santa conducting a choir of penitentiary inmates and a brilliant visual punch-line when Ernest makes breakfast, this film is pretty shocking. The dialogue is dreary and clichéd far beyond tongue in cheek, all the actors (bar Varney) are rubbish and as wooden as a nut-cracker prince and worst of all its devoid of any real Christmas moral of togetherness and giving. There’s no emotive build up that crescendos in a final scene of festive magic. Instead you’ve got Varney clowning around in a real creepy manner accompanied by some run-away jail-bait he picked up somewhere along the course of a plot flimsier than a bit of thread-bare tinsel. Its set in Florida for Pete’s sake so there isn’t even any snow!
When considering all these disappointing aspects THN wondered how the hell we could justify our choice of such a lame movie. After much Scrooge-like consideration we came to the conclusion that ERNEST SAVES CHIRSTMAS is a perfect Christmas movie! – in that it could be used as a metaphor for the holiday on the whole – From ones youth you remember it to be the best thing ever – only to find of reliving the experience it’s actually boring, tired and ultimately disappointing!