Written by Dylan Brandsema
I’ve always said that there two ways to watch an Ernest movie. The first is to look at it as you would any other movie, with a serious filmmaking approach — to analyze every technical aspect, every little blunder, and take it to heart as contemplative as possible. The second is to suspend all disbelief, throw logic at out the window, and sit back and enjoy the off-the-chart silliness that the film has to offer. Having not seen Ernest Saves Christmas in a large number of years, I couldn’t help but do a little bit of both. The filmmaker/critic in me wanted to sit on the edge of my seat and squint at the screen looking for anything to nitpick, but the inner child in me wanted to slap that part of me in the face and say “Hey, man. It’s an Ernest movie. Who really cares?”
The third feature film to feature Jim Varney’s iconic Ernest character, Ernest Saves Christmas wastes no time in the getting right into the plot, as we’re introduced to Santa Claus (played wonderfully by Douglas Seale), making a trip to Orlando, Florida, to find the man he has handpicked to be his replacement. He encounters Ernest when he hauls a cab at the airport (because, as we all know, Ernest is a cab driver), and later on, a young girl calling her Harmony Starr (Noelle Parker), joins them in them in the cab as they all work together to help Santa find Joe Carruthers, an aging actor, and the man who’s destined to become the new St. Nick. As expected in an Ernest film, from there, madness ensues.
There are several elements that make Ernest Saves Christmas stand out among the rest of the installments in the franchise. The first is the fact that is the only film is the series with no notable antagonist. It’s not a matter of a dispute or debate — there simply is no villain and that, I feel, is the biggest fault in Ernest Saves Christmas. When you look at it in retrospect, the story doesn’t need one, but it almost feels uneven, and at times, incomplete in terms of story development. The film is only 95 minutes, but for a whoppingly large majority of it, including scenes that are well into the second act, it still feels like it’s still kind of just getting started. The lack of a primary malefactor to provide our story’s characters with obstacles and stumbling blocks makes for major pacing issues that ultimately prevents the film from being better than it is, but the nonetheless, it doesn’t damage it to a point beyond repair like it has with other films, and particularly comedies of this sort.
Another distinguishable aspect of Ernest Saves Christmas is that about 3/4ths of the way through the movie, I began to realize that, in a way, Ernest is a relatively secondary character in his own movie. Between Santa Claus (which, by the way, I think has become one of my favorite onscreen Santas due to Douglas Seale’s magnificent performance), the troubled teenage girl with multiple names, Joe Carruthers and the two dimwitted storage agents trying to keep track of all Santa’s reindeer — Ernest doesn’t really have a whole lot of screen time despite being the title character and a key element to the film’s overall native. The film, as it goes on, appears to be more about Santa Claus more than Ernest, and, to be perfectly honest, there were moments where I wished he was the protagonist instead.
Even with this fault, however, all of the characters are still all very well developed. The writing isn’t particularly strong, but there’s something about the film that presents all the characters, both big and small, to be very believable and authentic to the audience. By the end, we do feel like we’ve gone on their adventure with them, and even though there’s no eminent value or lesson to be learned from of all of it, that’s something that, revisiting this film for the first time since childhood, I did not expect to see, especially in such tremendous form.
Anyone going into Ernest Saves Christmas, or any of the Ernest films for that matter, expecting to be perfect, is just silly. Yes, there are things that don’t make sense (for example: if Santa has no real money, how did he pay for his flight?); there’s always going to be with films of this genre. Of course it’s flawed, and of course, when you look at the big picture, it doesn’t matter. It’s problematic, certainly, but it’s fun, it’s absurd, it’s ridiculous, it’s stupid, it’s downright kooky, and above all, it’s quintessentially Ernest. In the end, isn’t that really all that matters?
This might not be among the best holiday movies, and maybe not even the best Ernest movie, but if the holiday season rolls around and you’re hankering for some funny, innocent, friendly entertainment to get yourself tangled in for an hour and a half, Ernest Saves Christmas will definitely appease your seasonal desires.
Pick up Ernest Saves Christmas on DVD, by clicking here.