The Dukes of Hazzard
Director : s Jay Chandrasekhar
Screenplay : John O'Brien (based on the TV series created by Gy Waldron)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2005
Stars : Johnny Knoxville (Luke Duke), Seann William Scott (Bo Duke), Jessica Simpson (Daisy Duke), Burt Reynolds (Boss Hogg), M.C. Gainey (Rosco P. Coltrane), Willie Nelson (Uncle Jessie), Kevin Heffernen (Sheev), Michael Weston (Deputy Enos Strate), Michael Roof (Dil Driscoll) David Koechner (Cooter)Lynda Carter (Pauline), Joe Don Baker (Governor Jim Applewhite), Nikki Griffin (Katie Johnson)
When I was in kindergarten, even though I didn’t know what moonshine was and I was too young to appreciate Catherine Bach in her Daisy Dukes, The Dukes of Hazzard was my favorite television show. Thus, as I settled down a quarter-century later to watch the new big-screen update-cum-parody of that TV show, I was hoping that my inner 7-year-old would get a cheap thrill. Alas, even he was disappointed with this stupid, meandering, generally unfunny attempt to rework the old series about a couple of “good ol’ boys” and their constant run-ins with the law. It’s loud, crude, and vulgar -- but those are its good points.
Taking the reins from comparatively clean-cut John Schneider and Tom Wopat, scruffy-looking Seann William Scott and Johnny Knoxville take over as, respectively, Bo and Luke Duke, a pair of cousins/best friends who live in rural Hazzard County, Georgia, and run moonshine for their Uncle Jessie (Willie Nelson). As in the original TV series, their lawlessness is treated as harmless, if not noble, rebellion, although on TV Bo and Luke were portrayed as genuinely good people, whereas Scott and Knoxville do everything they can to be obnoxious, boorish, and most of all stupid. Perhaps thinking that the main audience for the movie would be teenage boys who like to feel superior to characters on-screen, Bo and Luke have been dumbed down to just above Neanderthal level for no apparent purpose.
Screenwriter John O’Brien, who had much better luck injecting parody into last year’s big-screen version of Starsky & Hutch, follows the same basic pattern as a typical Dukes of Hazzard episode, pitting Bo and Luke against the nefarious Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds) and his minion Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane (M.C. Gainey), who is significantly larger and more sinister than his goofy TV counterpart played by James Best. In this case, Boss Hogg is hatching a scheme to strip-mine all of Hazzard County, which might have some kind of significance if we actually cared a lick about any of the characters. Sure, the TV show was simple and cheesy, but there was at least some affection paid to the characters; here, they’re all outsized cartoons that don’t work as parody any more than they work as human beings.
Perhaps noting the screenplay’s obvious faults, director Jay Chandrasekhar (of Broken Lizard fame) tries to compensate with a bit of subversiveness involving Bo and Luke’s bizarre, paranoid buddy Sheev (fellow Broken Lizard vet Kevin Heffernen) and some gags about race, but ultimately he settles with a lot of wink-wink stunt casting. This starts, of course, with pop singer Jessica Simpson as Bo and Luke’s curvaceous cousin Daisy Duke. Simpson has played dim in the media for so long that it’s something of a surprise that she manages to pull off the idea that Daisy is completely in the know as she flaunts her goods … and then flaunts them again … and then again. It doesn’t do much to redeem her, but it’s more than any of the other characters have going for them, including Willie Nelson, who is utterly wasted as Uncle Jessie. He gets to tell a few bad jokes and then stumble through a smoky pot joke at the end, but that’s about it. And as far as Burt Reynolds goes, seeing the one-time Bandit playing the force of repression would be a clever bit of irony in a better movie, but here it falls continuously flat because Reynolds adds nothing to the role.
Fueled by dinosaur rock and the genial hope of appealing to every lowest common denominator, The Dukes of Hazzard is only watchable when it drops all pretenses of narrative and comedy and engages in various overblown car chases. Chandrasekhar isn’t much of an action director -- he constantly keeps the camera too close and edits the action sequences like a hyperkinetic junior Michael Bay -- but he does know a Hazzard money shot when he sees one. There are plenty of images of the General Lee, the Dukes’ fiery orange ’69 Dodge Charger, flying through the air, and several times the movie stops ala the TV show so that the narrator (known as “The Balladeer”) can comment on the action. In the show, these narrative freezes had a purpose because they led to the commercial breaks. Here, they have no purpose other than frustrating the audience by teasing us with the tantalizing idea that maybe this immediately forgettable waste of a movie has ended prematurely.
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
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All images copyright ©2005 Warner Bros.