Have made it quite a few times clear of enjoying, while acknowledging they had faults, most of the 'Ernest' films in a guilty pleasure sort of way (if more the theatrically released ones than the straight to video ones). Also to liking the character of Ernest.
To me, the best 'Ernest' films are 'Saves Christmas', 'Goes to Jail', 'Scared Stupid' and 'Goes to Camp', 'Rides Again' also had its fun elements. While they weren't great films and had their faults, they entertained and it was easier to take them for what they set out to do. The straight to video films were less good, not terrible but visibly looked cheaper, the humour became much more inconsistent, the stories thinner and more contrived and the silliness got too much at times too. From personal opinion, the two weakest of the 'Ernest' films are 'Goes to Africa' and 'In the Army'.
'Ernest in the Army' has redeeming qualities, all of the 'Ernest' films did regardless of the near-universal critical mauling all of them get. The best things about it are the music and Jim Varney. The music is full of rocking energy and affectionate nostalgia and really adds a great deal to the action in the film. It's hard still not to relate to Ernest, the sort of character that is a well-intended serial bumbler with a well-meaning big strong heart but always finding himself messing up without intention.
Varney is fun and likable in the role, to me there is enough freshness in the interpretation to not make it too tired or endless mugging and his performance does give the film much needed energy. A few parts are funny, especially with the gummy bears, the pancake and the electric fence.
However, the supporting cast don't really give very much and some are moronically annoying in their overwrought-ness (though not Linda Kash in 'Goes to Africa' annoying). The story is just as thin, dumb and dull as the one in 'Goes to Africa', and also suffers from a tacked on subplot with the kid and sentimentality that is too hard to stomach (this element usually has a lot of heart in the 'Ernest' films, here it was overkill).
The humour works a few times but they only happen in glimpsing flashes rather than as an overall whole. Nobody expects a sophisticated script in an 'Ernest' film, that was well established with as far back as 'Ernest Goes to Camp' (that's right the one that started it all off) and it's like expecting a porn star to have acting talent. The script however is truly witlessly infantile with constant groans and head shakes than laughter, hearing some of it is enough to make one feel like their IQ has significantly dropped.
Likewise with the gags, which suffer from being childish and contrived and from lack of momentum from some going on too long. Pacing is dull and makes the short running time feel longer, while the direction is just as dull and bordering on ineptly clumsy. It's also one of the cheaper-looking of the series, especially in some amateurish camera work.
Overall, one of the weaker 'Ernest' films and not a good note to go out on. 4/10 Bethany Cox