When you are talking about ridiculous basketball movies, a few often come up. We’ve talked about Teen Wolf ad naseum at this point, to such a degree that one background extra has been examined as if though they are John F. Kennedy in the Zapruder film. Granted, that movie is blissfully ridiculous. Michael J. Fox plays a teenager who becomes a werewolf who is then awesome at basketball. That rules, but it’s also super dumb. Space Jam is silly, but it’s also bad. Bill Murray and Wayne Knight try to save it but it simply isn’t good and doesn’t have the kitschy fun of Teen Wolf. Juwanna Mann makes no sense but is also cringey. However, there is one man whose spot in the basketball movie oeuvre is overlooked, and that man is Ernest P. Worrell.
Yes, there is an Ernest basketball movie. While Jim Varney’s character is primarily remembered for being scared stupid or going to jail, he played basketball in a direct-to video film that came out in 1995. Ernest would still go to Africa and join the Army before Varney’s death – and by the way Varney was a talented actor who just happened to fall into a popular, broad character and made a great living from that – but Ernest was definitely on the downslope of his popularity when Slam Dunk Ernest came out.
Which, in a way, is a shame, if only because it means we are missing out on a fun cultural reference point. In the movie, Ernest plays a janitor at a mall who ends up on his coworkers’ basketball team called “Clean Sweep.” He then gets magic shoes from an angel played by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Oh, and the shoes come from a shoe store owned by a demon in disguise. Naturally, in that classic Teen Wolf fashion, Ernest has supernatural skills, but he also becomes a showboat and a ballhog.
Somehow, Clean Sweep earns the right to play an exhibition game with the Charlotte Hornets, a very 1995 choice of a team? Ernest of course learns the error of his ways (Kareem did warn him about the shoes) and tosses the magic shoes aside to support his team. He of course still scores the winning basket and them somehow his teammates get drafted into the NBA.
Honestly, the DVD cover says it all. Varney, decked out in a basketball uniform but still wearing Ernest’s hat, is soaring toward a dunk but seems to have jumped to far and probably would smash face first into the backboard in real life. Kareem, in a turtleneck-and-blazer combo, looks up and smiles. It’s so cheesy and feels absurd. The movie seems like a joke. It’s not, though. Slam Dunk Ernest is real. Maybe it isn’t as fun as Teen Wolf, but we should start to give it more shine in the realm of the ridiculous basketball movie.