Friday, April 1, 2011

BLU-RAY REVIEW: Ernest Comedy Double Feature Blu-ray

Ernest Comedy Double Feature Blu-ray
Mill Creek Entertainment

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio: DTS-HD 2.0, PCM Uncompressed 2.0
Duration: 91 mins
Director: John R. Cherry III
Cast: Jim Varney, Iron Eyes Cody, John Vernon, Victoria Racimo

Plot: Everyone’s favorite pitchman Ernest P. Worrell stars in his first feature film as the bumbling handyman at Kamp Kikakee who is given a chance to finally be a counselor to a group of juvenile delinquents. Ernest has his hands full with his young charges that delight in tormenting him with their practical jokes. When an unscrupulous mine owner sets his sights upon the camp property, Ernest and his campers must band together to save the day!

Film: I was 14 the year that Ernest Goes to Camp (1987) came to theatres, a time when I was too busy obsessing over the opposite sex to give the film much thought. Had I known then the years of torment, rejection and heartache I would endure at the mercy of my hormones I might have put off the opposite sex for a few more years and let the rubber-faced funnyman bring a smile to my face.

Jim Varney was coming off a string of awesome 80's TV commercials when his character Ernest P. Worrell made his feature film debut with Ernest Goes to Camp (1987). He's a kind-hearted but woefully inept handyman at Camp Kikakee whom dreams of one day becoming a camp counselor. Sure enough the kind-hearted goof he gets his wish when a group of delinquent youths injure one of the counselors with their pranky shenanigans. The kids themselves are very typical 80's youth stereotypes, nothing new under the sun here but it workd within the context of a PG kids film. Ernest takes the kids under his wing and despite some pranks and abuse at the hands of the group they develop a liking for the accident prone handyman turned counselor.

Turns out that Camp Kikakee is situated on top of a large deposit of the element Petrocite which puts the camp in the sights of the Krader Mining Co. and the unscrupulous Sherman Krader played by one of the best villainous actors of the 70's/80's John Vernon, whom most will recall as Dean Wormer from Animal House (1978). Krader will stop at nothing to have at the profitable petrocite and he exploits Ernest's naivety to steal the camp out from under it's elderly Native American owner. As the mining corporation prepares to strip mine the camp it becomes an all out war as the the camp staff and kids lead by Ernest defend the camp against the evil corporation. It's fun stuff with a great cast of characters including two bumbling kitchen staff who are constantly concocting heinous camp grub which is used during the films explosive finale. This is just 80's goofy goodness with a ton of stupid gags. It's hard to believe that I've managed to avoid this film for 24 years, this was a fun watch with my kids who laughed from start to finish. It's not a comedy classic but it's a fun time.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85: Anamorphic
Audio: DTS-HD 2.0, PCM Uncompressed 2.0
Duration: 80 mins
Director: John R. Cherry III
Cast: Jim Varney, Gailard Smith, Bill Byrge, Barbara Tyson

Plot: Bank janitor Ernest P. Worrell is called to jury duty and soon finds himself in trouble when the lookalike defendant’s attorney arranges a switch and has Ernest sent to prison in his client’s place. While Ernest struggles to deal with prison life, his criminal double decides to use Ernest’s job at the bank as an opportunity to rob it. Will Ernest be able to break out of prison in time to stop the robbery and expose the mix-up?

Film: This is the third film in which Jim Varney reprised his role as Ernest P. Worrell and this time out Ernest is the accident prone janitor of a bank who dreams of one day being a bank teller ...and hijinx ensue. Sounds familiar, huh? It's pretty uninspired stuff and in an unlikely turn of events Ernest is chosen for jury duty and through what can only be described as a improbable comedy of errors is mistaken for master-criminal Felix Nash (also played by Varney). Nash just can't believe his good luck at doubling for a janitor at a bank, so while he's planning to rob the bank Ernest must find a way outta jail before he is put to death as Nash. This film lacks any real laughs but seeing Varney volley back and forth between slackjawed Ernest and the cutthroat Nash is fun stuff.  So while I thought it was a fairly substandard comedy retread whattya the kids think? They loved it of course. 

Blu-ray: Ernest Goes to Camp is presented in 1080p anamorphic 2.35:1 scope aspect ratio. The print looks quite good and the transfer is surprisingly sharp with vibrant colors.  There's a good amount of depth to the image and decent black levels. Ernest Goes to Jail does not fare so well with a 1080i anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer. The print is dirty, the image is soft and the black levels are murky at best. Both film's feature English DTS-HD 2.0 and PCM Uncompressed 2.0 audio which sounds good if not overly impressive. No subtitle options or supplemental materials are offered. It's a bare bones affair but it's still nice to see Ernest make the jump to blu.

Verdict: As a child of the 80's in his late-30's can I say that these particular Ernest films hold up some 25 years later? The answer is yes and no. Ernest Goes to Camp (1987) is a truly entertaining watch. It helps that I have a soft spot for summer camp flicks spurred by my love of Friday the 13th (1980) and the numerous camp films of the late 70's and 80's - my favorite being Meatballs (1979) - but it's Varney's rubber faced antics that just make me laugh, it's as simple as that really. The comedy is kid-friendly (read: pretty stupid) and it makes for some good family entertainment. I watched it with my kids and they laughed non-stop so the film has some staying power. On the other hand Ernest Goes to Jail (1990) is pretty weak sauce. The story is a retread of Camp but without the benefit of the kids interaction with Ernest. Sure, it's not up to snuff  but it has it's moments and is worth a watch if only to see Varney stretch his acting muscle as the tough as nails Nash. If you have kids ages 6-12 this is a great buy that can be had on the cheap for less than $8 on Amazon.  Ernest Goes to Camp (1987) 3.5 outta 5 / Ernest Goes to Jail (1990) get a 2.5 outta 5