Plot: Ernest (Jim Varney) is part of a custodial crew at a shopping mall, but he often goofs up his assignments and irritates his coworkers. He wants to be friends with the others and while he tries his best, they don’t warm up to him and despite his constant pleading, they refuse to let him play in their late night basketball games. After all, he is an awkward and clumsy person on his best day, so the idea of him on a basketball court seems ridiculous. But when he is visited by The Archangel of Basketball (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), he is given a pair of mystical shoes that will turn him into a superhuman on the court, as long as he doesn’t abuse the power. But even with the magic shoes can Ernest earn a spot on the team and if he does, can he keep the power of the shoes under control or will it all go to his head?
Entertainment Value: The Ernest series has some beloved installments, such as Ernest Saves Christmas and Ernest Goes to Jail, but also some less popular entries, like this one, Slam Dunk Ernest. The narrative here is obviously a thin one, as the movie combines the usual Ernest style comic elements with a “magic item turns hapless goon into a star with unexpected consequences” routine. I have to think most viewers will see how things will turn out from the start, but I also have to think few people would watch an Ernest movie for a nuanced, unpredictable narrative. The humor here is in line with Ernest’s typical shtick, as he tries to help but bumbles whatever he sets his hand to, always good at heart, but sometimes blinded by wanting to be liked. The script is weak, but Jim Varney does his best to make it work, with mediocre results. I also think this is a little more mean spirited than most of Ernest’s work, especially early on when he is more or less always belittled by those around him. But there is still some of that Ernest magic here at times, so fans of the series should find a little to like here.
As I mentioned before, the material is rather weak, so it is up to Jim Varney to add some charm and spruce up the jokes. This works in some scenes and Varney makes a noble effort, but this script was never going to be a home run. I do appreciate the effort he put in however, as some actors would have just slept through this kind of material, but you can tell he tried to make lemonade here. I mean, just the visual of Ernest doing all these insane basketball stunts and superhuman moves is humorous, so at least the character is given some bright spots. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has a small role as The Archangel of Basketball, which is a great name, but aside from some preachy lines delivered in wooden style, his presence adds little. The cast also includes Miguel A. Nunez, Jr., Richard Leacock, and Colin Lawrence, among others. If you hoped to see more of the Ernest regulars in the supporting cast, no such luck this time. Slam Dunk Ernest isn’t good, but fans of the series should have a few laughs and at times things are so bad, you can’t help but smile at how ridiculous it is.