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Ernest Saves Christmas Review

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Santa falls to earth and into the clumsy care of taxi driver, Ernest, who takes on Santa's quest to find a successor and thus save Christmas. Narrowly avoiding a nuclear war, the pathetic double act pick up a chick and make good like veritable Supermen.

★★★★★

The opening sequence of Ernest Saves Christmas is built around a series of famous Coca-Cola illustrations in which a ruddy-cheeked Santa cheerily brandishes their product, and the film concludes when a child encountering the new Father Christmas declares, “It’s the real thing!”. As you might expect, the intervening hour-and-a-half is so firmly rooted in the pop culture of our American cousins as to be something of an education. For instance, if you’re the type who feels that carols don’t quite cut the mustard when relayed in an American accent, you will be badly shaken to hear the whiskery old gent being hailed as “His Frostiness” or, at one cringe-worthy point, “His Big Red One-ness— The Claus\”

Not a problem for the under-tens, of course, particularly those with an appetite for brash dialogue and the occasional interstellar effect. The attention of the Empire critics, aged six and four, was only briefly diverted during the proceedings by the arrival of a box of Maltesers.

This breezy, strictly seasonal caper derives the bulk of its humour by abruptly updating any cosy fireside notions of traditional Yuletide entertainment. Thus our sack-swinging senior citizen is plunged into the unfamiliar terrain of late 80s middle America when he alights at Orlando airport to announce his retirement and the need to find a replacement, and in so doing has much opportunity to observe the morality of modern life.

Engagingly befuddled, he finds himself in a world in which his co-stars are a jive-talkin’ taxi driver — the eponymous hero, Ernest (Jim Varney), who believes the guy when he says he’s Father Christmas and helps him find someone to take over the mantle — and a Valley Girl with parental problems, who declares him “totally awesome”. His sleigh gets kitted out with an “altitude limit switch” and is later — rather excitingly — tracked by a phalanx of nuclear jets with instructions to “terminate with extreme prejudice”.

Inevitably, the sentiment’s a bit treacly but the pace is agreeably hectic, the characters sufficiently larger-than-life and the pastiche of the flying sequence in Superman is fun for all the family.

To say this is the best of the Ernest series is no great compliment, but there are enough knowing film jibes here, and ample seasonal tomfoolery, to keep a family in their seats.