April 23, 1990 12:00 PM

Jim Varney

Despite frantic fits of busywork—including two bits using a runaway floor buffer—this comedy has the pace of molasses oozing down a board. Make that a Velcro-covered board held at a two-degree angle.

Varney is doing the same pratfall-facial contortion humor that Jerry Lewis did in his solo films, but Lewis was a much better, quicker, physical comedian. And even Lewis’s buck-toothed mugging wasn’t as repulsive as all those images of Varney looking like a donkey shot in extreme close-up with a wide-angle lens.

As for plot: Varney is a bank janitor who, while on jury duty, is tricked into switching places with a hard-core con in prison. The con looks just like Ernest, and the obvious identity-switching gags are used.

Varney is a decent actor. Another World alumna Barbara Bush is appealing as a love interest, and ex-boxer Randall “Tex” Cobb does a nice turn as a good-hearted inmate.

They have little to work with, though, outside of 114 “knowwhadduhmean?” jokes. The Ernest series in general does little other than to almost inspire you to seek out such old series as the Francis (the talking mule) or Ma and Pa Kettle films of the ’40s and ’50s. Almost. (PG)

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