Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jim Varney, Douglas Seale, Oliver Clark, Noelle Parker, Gailard Sartain, Billie Bird, Bill Byrge, Robert Lesser, Key Howard, Jack Swanson, Buddy Douglas, Patty Maloney, Beecher Martin, Barry Brazell, George Kaplan, Bill Welter
Written by: B. Kline, Ed Turner, based on a story by Ed Turner
Directed by: John R. Cherry III
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 95
Date: 11/11/1988

Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)

3 Stars (out of 4)

An Earnest Christmas

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jim Varney's Ernest P. Worrell character started on TV commercials, speaking to the always-unseen Vern, and it seemed like an unbelievable leap for him to be able to carry quickie, 90-minute feature films. He started with Ernest Goes to Camp (1987) and quickly followed up with Ernest Saves Christmas (1988), a film that definitely remains one of the seasonal favorites for a certain group of fans. I had never seen an Ernest movie, although I remember him from the TV ads. I streamed Ernest Saves Christmas during the holiday season, expecting to see something awful, but hopefully mildly amusing.

I didn't believe it, but I found myself enjoying this movie. And not even because it was funny, but because it was so sweet, and... well... earnest, if you'll pardon the wordplay. The Ernest character, despite being a doofus and prone to troublemaking and slapstick, is genuinely a good guy. He loves Christmas and believes in helping people. He's also something of a master of disguise and manages, during several scenes in the film, to pull off a few laughs while in disguise as a smarmy lawyer, a bitter old lady, and a snake handler ("these snakes is PIE-sin!"). It's almost as if he's a superhero, capable of pulling off any stunt, at any time. He has no character arc; he's only here to serve others.

In the story, Santa Claus is only allowed to do the job for a certain number of years before his magic wears off, and then he must find a successor. This Santa (Douglas Seale) finds a recently laid-off children's TV show host, Joe (Oliver Clark), and determines that he's the man for the job. A teen runaway calling herself "Harmony" (Noelle Parker) turns up and briefly causes trouble, but she, too, turns out to be a good person. Whenever the movie needs a transition, it cleverly cuts to a couple of shipping clerks who are trying to figure out what to do with eight flying reindeer.

The comedy is throttled before it has a chance to get anywhere, and the movie is as low-budget as can be, with sub-par special effects, but it avoids the vulgar and the low-down, remaining firmly rooted in kindness and goodwill toward all.

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