Ernest Goes to Jail

Ernest Goes to Jail is a 1990 American comedy crime film directed by John R. Cherry III and starring Jim Varney.[1] It is the fourth film to feature the character Ernest P. Worrell. It was shot in Nashville and Tennessee State Penitentiary. This is the second most successful of the Ernest films, behind Ernest Saves Christmas. It was in third place during its opening weekend, earning $6,143,372.[2] Total gross was $25,029,569.[3]

Ernest Goes to Jail
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn R. Cherry III
Produced byMartin Erlichman
Written byCharlie Cohen
Music byBruce Arntson
Kirby Shelstad
CinematographyPeter Stein
Edited bySharyn L. Ross
Distributed byBuena Vista Pictures
Release date
  • April 6, 1990 (1990-04-06)
Running time
81 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$25 million


Security guards Chuck and Bobby play a game of Red light/Green light while being night watchmen for Howard County Bank and Trust and are obsessed with elaborate schemes of would-be thieves. They hear a sound coming from a floor polisher that Ernest (who works as a night custodian but dreams of being a clerk) is trying to turn on for operation, but he ends up making a mess in the bank and he becomes magnetic from a mishap with the floor polisher. The next day, bank president Oscar Pendlesmythe's assistant, Charlotte Sparrow, orders him to clean up his supernatural mess. Pendlesmythe wants to terminate Ernest's employment at the bank, but Charlotte has a sympathetic attitude for misfits, so she argues on his behalf. Ernest takes a bath at home in a tumble dry washing machine and uses a blow dryer with a windtunnel force for his evening dinner with Charlotte in a restaurant. He later receives in the mail a summons stating that he has been selected for jury duty in court and tells the two watchmen about it. During the trial, Dracup Maximum Security Prison convict and defendant Rubin Bartlett notices that Ernest is a dead ringer for death row inmate Felix Nash. Per Bartlett's request, his lawyer convinces the jury to tour the prison, where Bartlett arranges for Ernest to be abducted by Nash and another inmate named Lyle and switched with Nash. After the jury returns to court, Nash tampers with the jury's verdict so that Bartlett is labeled not guilty, allowing Bartlett to return to jail and resume his current sentence. Even though Ernest tries to tell the guards he is not Nash, they refuse to believe him. Ernest also does not know that he has a death sentence, which is for Nash.

While having lunch, a guard tells them to stand up and be quiet, when he notices Ernest is making a lot of noise, which almost sends him into the cell. Ernest tries to tell one of the prison guards that he is Ernest, not Nash, but the guard calls him "Mr. Funny Man" (which is a mistaken lie), angrily says that he is not funny, and is lying and throws him into the cell right in front of Lyle, who pushes him back. When he pushes him near the prison bars, he tells the guard that he was beaten up (and accidentally slamming the guard's head on the bars). The guard tells Ernest that he will be sent to the hole, which makes Ernest realize he is in jail. Bartlett returns to jail and tells Ernest that Nash has assumed his identity and warns him to be silent about the switch. Ernest makes several unsuccessful escape attempts, and is soon sent to the electric chair by Warden Carmichael (Charles Napier).

The electrocution fails, and Ernest is transformed into a type of superhuman, with the ability to shoot lightning bolts from his hands. To make his getaway, he blasts a hole in the main gates. However, Bartlett, refusing to let his plan go awry, obstructs Ernest's escape, intending to kill Ernest himself. Fortunately for Ernest, Lyle intervenes, knocks Bartlett unconscious and allows Ernest to make his escape, knowing that Ernest is different from everyone else. Making his way home, he discovers that his childish Pee-wee Herman-esqe décor has been replaced by a slick Lounge Lizard style of décor and exclaims, "I've been vandalized – by Elvis!" Meanwhile, Nash is preparing to blast open the bank's vault with a time bomb, with Charlotte and an unconscious Chuck bound nearby. Charlotte begs Nash not to follow through with his plan, and he blurts the truth about being an impostor. Charlotte does not believe it until he points out he has done a far better job cleaning the floors than Ernest ever had. Ernest arrives and he and Nash do battle. Ernest gets electrocuted yet again when Nash harshly throws him against an electric cage that the bank had rigged to drop from the ceiling to catch robbers. Now Ernest has become polarized and gained the ability to fly. He uses his super powers to fly through the skylight of the bank with the bomb which leads to a spectacular mid-air explosion. Everyone especially Chuck thinks that Ernest has been killed, until he falls through the skylight and lands on Nash, which leads the warden and the guards to find out Ernest was right all along. Ernest tiredly declares, "I came, I saw, I got blowed up." and then faints.



The reviews for the movie were universally negative.[4][5][6]

Box office

The movie debuted at No. 3.[7]

Home media

Originally released on Laserdisc[8] and VHS in January of 1991, with This film's first DVD release was on September 3, 2002 from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. Mill Creek Entertainment re-released it on February 10, 2008 as part of the Ernest 2-Movie Collection with Slam Dunk Ernest and on January 18, 2011, as part of a two-disc set Ernest Triple Feature along with Ernest Goes to Camp and Ernest Scared Stupid. They also released the film for the first time on Blu-ray on March 29, 2011 in a single disc Double Feature set along with Ernest Goes to Camp. The 2011 releases mark the first time the film has been available in widescreen.

TV Version

An alternate edit of this film aired on NBC in August 1994, which contained several additional scenes not found on its home media releases.[9]


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