Slam Dunk Ernest (1995)
Directed by John R. Cherry III
Written by John R. Cherry III & Daniel Butler

Like a superspy who ends up tied to a chair in some squalid Malaysian warehouse, getting the tar beat out of him by international drug runners, I find myself looking back and asking: "How did I get myself into this?" Except in my case, the situation is simply watching Slam Dunk Ernest.

The ever-crafty Crimedog tossed me this Hot Potato after his original choice, Ernest Goes To Africa, proved to be rented out at my local video store … on four separate trips over the course of nearly two weeks!

I knew I was in trouble before I even got out the front door at Blockbuster. Immediately upon placing the movie on the counter, I heard this from the clerk: "Sir, have you signed up for the Blockbuster Kid's Club?"

"Uh, I don't rent enough movies to make it worthwhile," I sheepishly stammered in reply. Crimedog 1, Speedwagon 0.

The movie begins with a flashback. Some kids are playing basketball while a young Ernest P. Worrell looks on. Eventually, a loose ball ends up coming to Ernest. He looks around stupidly while the rest of the boys implore him not to shoot. Of course, Ernest does, and he flings the basketball toward the hoop and misses. A "hilarious" montage shows the ball wreaking havoc all over – landing on a table at a restaurant and splashing the diners with food, hitting a man on a bicycle causing him to run into a blind lady, and so on.

Forward to the future, and Ernest apparently now works at a mall, part of the janitorial team that cleans up after closing. The crew, conveniently, is comprised of five black men. After the smarmy white security guy leaves, the boys drop their brooms, somehow produce a basketball goal, and they begin a pickup game in the middle of the mall. See, they're an actual basketball team, and they have to practice for the "City Championship." Uh, OK.

Ernest attempts to get involved, asking the guys to "get him the rock" while in increasingly "funny" places, such as on the escalator, or atop a ladder. This is where the trouble begins, as a loose ball finds Ernest while is on the ladder, which is situated near an ugly-ass metal sculpture. He again ignores the instructions to not shoot the ball, and again, the ball goes wild, ending up hitting Ernest on the head, knocking him into the sculpture and knocking it over.

Cut to the team leader, Barry, being berated by the mall's owner (?) (General manager? President?) It's here that it becomes apparent where the movie was shot, as in the background a sign over a store says "___TREAL TRUST," a sheet of plywood obviously covering the "MON.") Eventually, Ernest convinces the owner that it was all his fault, and he volunteers to pay for the damages.

In gratitude for keeping his team from getting fired, Barry asks Ernest what they can do for him. Ernest, of course, wants to play ball with them. The rest of the team, of course, is against it, Barry says that they owe him, and he allows Ernest to suit up with the team, but he can't play.

As you would expect, this causes no end of problems for the team, which is known as Clean Sweep. During the game, Ernest somehow manages to obtain pom-poms, and he begins cheering the team on. Demonstrating a disturbing lack of focus, the team is distracted by Ernest and his cheering, and they begin to allow the other team back in the game.

Eventually, Ernest is convinced to stop cheering, but more wackiness is to come. With Clean Sweep a head by one point as time winds down, Ernest knocks over a rack of basketballs that is conveniently next to the court. The balls spill onto the court, where an opposing player trips over them. Ernest is called for a technical foul, the opposing player hits both shots, and Clean Sweep loses.

The rest of the team is none too happy, and they let Ernest know it. Ernest is despondent, and he remains behind in the locker room. He shouts out to God, wondering why he has been given such a miserable life. He is soon surprised by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, only he's not playing himself; he introduces himself as the "Archangel of Basketball" and he has something for Ernest. It's a pair of basketball shoes. But they're not any basketball shoes, they're magic, or blessed, or angelic, or something. The fact that they are sent from heaven is made pretty obvious.

The shoes are not inanimate; they are alive. Ernest initially refuses to put them on, so they put themselves on. They squeal and squawk, and they fight with Ernest over control of his feet. I suppose this was written as an excuse for Jim Varney to work in some slapstick physical humor. I can't stop laughing.

The rest of the movie is of course centered around the fact that Ernest can now play basketball better than anyone in the recorded history of the planet. The fact that he can suddenly do things like run approximately 700 miles an hour, jump sixteen feet straight up and hover for several minutes doesn't seem to cause anyone much consternation.

The team starts to kill their opponents – well, not literally kill them … that was going to be the plot of Ernest Goes To The Ultimate Fighting Championship, but Varney died before it could be completed. As the games and wins pile up, Ernest begins to become more and more self-centered, and he completely takes over the games.

Eventually, Ernest is contacted by a slimy character named Moloch. It's unclear whether we're supposed to think he's an agent, or a team owner, or what, but he's supposed to be the devil. There's a whole other subplot with Moloch trying to tempt the young son of the team leader, Barry, into stealing shoes just like the ones Ernest has. See, Ernest got the shoes, and now he's the best player ever. This conflicts with what Barry has told his son, that a pair of shoes won't make you a player – it takes hard work.

Christ, could this review get any more unnecessarily long? Anyway, Ernest starts to see that he is becoming too self-centered, and that he has changed for the worse, and so on. He fakes an injury so he can't play any more, so the rest of the team gets to play on their own. They win the city championship and somehow end up playing an exhibition game against the Charlotte Hornets, something that could never ever happen in reality. They win, and some scouts approach Barry about a pro try out or something.

Interminable though it was, this movie wasn't so awful, I guess. I am not exactly the target audience. If I were eight years old, or mentally handicapped in some way, this movie would probably be vaguely entertaining. I did find at least one genuinely amusing moment in it. At one point, the devil character has arranged for Ernest to enter the game on a chariot pulled by large men while wearing some shiny suit. He is introduced as "the hardest working cracker in basketball, Ernie Ali El Worrell" … causing one of his teammates to ask when "Ernest became a black Muslim." Not as amusing as it would have been had they immediately beat Ernest to death with his own shoes, but amusing nonetheless.

Review by Mario Speedwagon