The Dukes Of Hazzard

on August 05, 2005 by Mark Keizer
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Like many disposable entertainments in this disposable age, "The Dukes of Hazzard" is an asset that exists merely to sell other assets. Compared to the rewards being reaped by MTV (currently airing a "Dukes of Hazzard" special), "Entertainment Tonight" (with its nonstop Jessica Simpson coverage) GQ Magazine (with star Johnny Knoxville on its August cover) and Sony Music (who is releasing the soundtrack), the dreadful nature of the film itself doesn't seem to matter to those involved. A huge planetary solar system of marketing and programming opportunities spins in a tight, highly choreographed orbit around a dead, burned out sun. May "The Dukes of Hazzard" be the tipping point at which the tail stops wagging the dog and the studios start worrying about the quality of a film and not the percentage of its brand awareness.

The CBS show, which premiered in 1979 and lasted six seasons, was never high art. It was simple and stupid, with a Southern-fried dollop of humor and good-natured charm. Luckily, the show's young male target demographic embraces simple and stupid. However, writer John O'Brien and director Jay Chandrasekhar forgot to bring the humor and the charm. Flatter than a two-lane blacktop, the movie is awfully unfunny, which it compensates for by being awfully loud. As good ol' boy cousins Bo and Luke Duke, Seann William Scott and Johnny Knoxville respectively go through the motions. Scott gives the same dippy, genial performance he always seems to give. Here, he spends a lot of time behind the wheel of the General Lee, the orange Dodge Charger that was the original show's most popular character. Knoxville is a better on-screen presence then his culture-destroying (yet career-making) role on MTV's "Jackass" would suggest. However, with no decent dialogue to deliver, he mostly acts with his face, looking exasperated, excited or horrified, all in a slightly exaggerated manner.

The film differs from the TV show in some character details, but since the program was hardly a Faberge Egg that demanded worshipful preservation, the changes shouldn't offend fans. Younger moviegoers who've come to gaze upon Simpson's shapely form won't know the difference. On the show, the Duke boys of rural Hazzard County were retired moonshiners. In the film, they're unrepentant moonshiners, using the General Lee to cart firewater made from a still at the family home, run by Uncle Jesse (Willie Nelson, not trying very hard). When corrupt commissioner Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds, not as fun as it sounds) finds a suspiciously-placed still in the Dukes' barn, it allows him to seize the property. Hogg, resplendent in his Tom Wolfe-approved white suit, is seizing lots of property in Hazzard County and it's up to the Dukes to figure out what he's up to.

Helping our heroes is sexy Duke cousin Daisy, who was played in the series by leggy knockout Catherine Bach. Here, Daisy is played by singer/reality star/It Girl/future robber of laundromats Jessica Simpson. Sporting her character's trademark Daisy Duke shorts, she uses her fluttering eyes and gorgeous gams to help the guys out of various scrapes, a raison d'etre that should set the woman's movement back to the Stone Age. Simpson, who is so perfectly made up and immaculately coiffed she looks like a 23rd-century sex robot, is fine in a movie that doesn't require real acting. Casting her is a cynical ploy anyway: Pay us money to see one of today's hottest young celebrities in a bikini, but sit through a horrible movie for the pleasure.

Chandrasekhar, veteran of the who-decided-these-guys-are-funny "Broken Lizard" comedy troupe, has nothing to say about the material, so he just presents it as is. At one point, the boys drive the General Lee to Atlanta, where it's surrounded by a group of African-Americans who don't appreciate the Confederate flag painted on the top of the car. This, of course, leads to nothing in the way of commentary or humor. At least in this respect, the film is consistent.

With most effects today done on computer, it is refreshing to see real stunt cars doing real car stunts. But the stunt driving is never exciting and only sporadically interesting. Too much of the time, a low angle shot catches vehicles kicking up leaves, while the sound design convinces us that the cars are moving mighty fast.

"The Dukes of Hazzard" is a demoralizing film. Its value as entertainment seems an afterthought, since the studio has already calculated the film's profit-making potential. That may be a good reason to make a movie, but it's not a good reason to see one. Wherever the next dart lands on the "What TV Show Should We Adapt Into a Movie" dartboard, it's gotta result in a better movie than this. Starring Johnny Knoxville, Seann William Scott, Jessica Simpson and Burt Reynolds. Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar. Written by John O'Brien. Produced by Bill Gerber. A Warner Bros. release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, crude and drug-related humor, language and comic action violence. Running time: 105 min

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