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The Dukes of Hazzard

The Sinking South

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If there is anything the world doesn't need, it's a big-screen adaptation of The Dukes of Hazzard. This early 1980s television series held some appeal in its day as a subtle (if perhaps unintentional) satire of the "traditional rural family values" espoused by the Reaganites, and as a chance for home viewers to regularly watch car chases. Today, a sun-dappled rural South peopled with blustering local yokels and good-hearted moonshiners is a long-retired myth, and real automobile mayhem is just so much "available footage" filler on local news programs.

 

 

But here we are: Bo and Luke Duke, cousins and partners in rabble-rousing now portrayed by Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott, are right where we left 'em in Hazzard County, Georgia. And the boys suddenly got heaps more trouble than spilt shine and amorous farm girls. There's that weekend road race, but the Dukes' car, the General Lee, is out of commission, Meanwhile Boss Hogg has just confiscated the family land, requiring the cousins to make like Hardy Boys and uncover a nefarious mining venture. And there's on-going trouble with the law, but the lads put their barely clothed cousin Daisy (Jessica Simpson) on distracting duty.

 

What should be the film's two top draws -- yuks and wrecks -- both fall flat. This remake continues the inverse career path of director Jay Chandrasekhar -- the bigger the budget, the less inspired the comedy. Chandrasekhar burst on the low-rent laugh scene with 2002's neo-cult classic Super Troopers, followed by the significantly less funny Club Dread. There's not many laughs in Dukes, and certainly not much you haven't seen before. (Hey, there's a scene from Super Troopers!)

 

The car chases made me wistful for the days when such scenes were choreographed like lovers' tangos and filmmakers understood that comprehending the action was what gave viewers the vicarious thrills. Chandrasekhar makes a dull hash of the rumbles and wrecks, favoring lots of herky-jerky close-ups and a trigger-quick editing style that leaves the film looking like auto parts hurtling about in chaos.

 

Nobody escapes unscathed from this turd. Burt Reynolds, who virtually invented the lovable, reckless, rascally Southern hot-rodder back in the '70s, is lifeless as Boss Hogg. Willie Nelson's Uncle Jesse gets stuck with a string of Catskills jokes. And poor Jessica Simpson! She looks like one of those Barbie Doll knock-offs you see in dollar stores. She sure can't act, and that includes her very limited role here, which simply requires her to bend over in short shorts. And the film's best asset bottoms out too: As the demented soul behind the extreme stunt show and subsequent film Jackass, Knoxville cheerfully took vulgarity to new side-splitting depths. But in Dukes his anarchic spirit is hemmed in by the work's dull conventions.

 

Typical of today's retread entertainment, Dukes can't pick an overriding tone, and it fishtails all over the road. If it's an homage, then don't apologize for the Confederate flag emblazoned atop the General Lee. (In a ridiculous split-the-difference scene, the boys discover that the stars-and-bars have been accidentally painted on their car.) A decent satire wouldn't rigidly adhere to the TV show's juvenile characterizations and plotting. And except for a cell-phone call or two, there's little updating to lend freshness.

 

Since the filmmakers are going for lowbrow, why not give the whole ride a 2005 Jerry Springer infusion? Make the cousins interracial; give one a suspended license; cover Daisy's dukes in bad tattoos; add a Baby Duke of uncertain parentage; and upgrade Uncle Jesse's moonshine still to a crank lab. Lord knows I've seen funnier stuff -- and better acting -- on trash talk shows.

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