Friday, December 9, 2022

Ernest Saves Christmas

I recorded a good dozen or so movies during the Thanksgiving free preview weekend. One that I hadn't seen in a good 20 years was Ernest Saves Christmas. So when I saw that on the schedule, I recorded it to watch something this Christmas season. It's got several airings before Christmas, starting with tomorrow at 4:50 PM on Showtime Family.

The movie doesn't quite start off with Ernest (Jim Varney), but with a man who looks surprisingly like Santa Claus flying south to Orlando on Dec. 23. The reason he looks a lot like Santa is because, well, he is Santa Claus (played by Douglas Seale). He's even brought the reindeer with him (in cargo; Santa's flying commercial) and has his magic sack of gifts.

Ernest, meanwhile, is a taxi driver working the airport route, which is how he runs into Santa, almost literally. Having run into something else, Ernest has to pick up a passenger, and picks up Santa. Santa is looking for one Joe Carruthers (Oliver Clark), who is a bit of a local celebrity in that he did a kids' show on one of the local channels and does charity work at children's hospitals and the like. The real reason Santa is looking for Joe is that in this version of the Santa Claus story, Santa really does get old. But somehow Santa has some sort of special knowledge that allows him to know who's going to make the perfect next Santa Claus. The current one knows that Joe is the right man for the job.

Not that Joe knows this. He's got an agent who's trying to get him a chance at Hollywood stardom, with a movie script that offers the chance of sequels. And it's not as if most people are going to believe that this guy is Santa Claus. Indeed, Ernest is about the only one who does at first, because he just loves Christmas to the point that he almost makes it obnoxious for the people around him. Anyhow, they find where Joe is supposed to be, but Santa doesn't have any real money on him. That, or ID, so he gets arrested as a vagrant. Which is how Ernest is going to have to save Christmas.

But Ernest can't do it alone. While driving back home through Orlando, he once again nearly runs into someone. This time, it's a young girl named Harmony (Noelle Parker), who in one of those 1980s tropes was a teenage runaway. She doesn't have any place to go after stiffing a restaurant, so she climbs into Ernest's car to get away. Once Ernest finds out what's happened to Santa, Harmony helps him get the man out of jail and then reunited with the reindeer and sleigh as well as Joe to see if Joe won't be the next man to take on the part of Santa Claus.

As I was watching this, I couldn't help but think of Jerry Lewis since I just reviewed one of Lewis' films. Jim Varney's comedy is, like Lewis', a bit of an acquired taste. It would be easy to find him obnoxious. At the same time, however, Ernest is a good-hearted person who just doesn't realize how much he's irritating other people, somewhat like the Ralph Richardson character in The Wrong Box.

Indeed, Ernest Saves Christmas is a movie that, as a whole, has its heart in the right place. It knows that it's not great art by any stretch of the imagination, simply wanting to bring people some cheer for the Christmas season. And for the most part, it succeeds in doing just that.

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