The Dukes of Hazzard
directed by Jay Chandrasekhar
starring Seann William Scott, Johnny Knoxville, Jessica Simpson, Burt Reynolds and Willie Nelson
Finally, there a feel good film for the NASCAR/NRA set as The Dukes of Hazzard races into cineplexes everywhere. Based on the ’80s television series of the same name, the movie covers familiar turf: the Dukes, (Bo, Luke & Daisy), three cousins led by their wise patriarch Uncle Jesse, struggle to save their farm and their town from the dastardly Boss Hogg and the incompetent Hazzard County Police, led by the bungling Roscoe P. Coltrane.
This time around, Hogg (played with deadpan sartorial splendor by Burt Reynolds) is out to strip-mine an unsuspecting Hazzard County for his own financial gains. But before the dirt can be moved, he has to have a public hearing which just happens to coincide with Hazzard County’s annual car race. To ensure the success of this fiendish plan Hogg enlists a home town NASCAR hero, Billy Prickett (James Roday, channeling Ben Stiller), to keep the kind townsfolk of Hazzard County preoccupied. The Dukes are onto Boss Hogg after he confiscates their farm which just happens to be smack dab in the middle of the area he plans to mine. Because The Dukes are not simple folk that aim to be told what to do by anyone, especially a crooked sheriff, they do what any hillbilly clan would do: they fight back.
What ensues is a badly-accented, barely-acted melee of car chases, crude jokes, loud explosions, short shorts and badly timed drug humor that is guaranteed to touch a happy nerve in the hearts and minds of rednecks everywhere.
The Dukes of Hazzard was created as a Recession-era family TV show that offered jaunts into the life of rural American family and their epic struggle to hang on against corruption through thick and thin. Albeit this faster, sleeker and sexier grown-up Dukes of Hazzard retains the basic premise of the series it bears more likeness on the big screen to the Smokey & the Bandit and Cannonball Run films that inspired it.
In order for The Dukes of Hazzard to ‘work’ as a big budget franchise, Warner Brothers relied on the increasing popularity of NASCAR, high-profile casting and special effects. For example, Scott and Knoxville make Bo and Luke funnier than they ever were on the show, and Simpson makes Daisy Duke much sassier than she ever was on the boob tube. But the best performance in the film may belong to that orange 1969 Dodge Charger, the General Lee. The infamous hotrod shines here as it revs, roars and races its way through the movie.
Even though the producers ‘dumbed down’ the TV show to adapt it to the silver screen, they did takes some risks. The biggest risk involved calling attention to political correctness by having a Confederate flag painted on the roof of the General Lee. They also took the necessary step of making Bo & Luke fishes out of water by having them go to Atlanta with somewhat hilarious success. But the funniest risk of all was getting Laurence Fishburne involved. His all-too-brief vocal cameo steals the film.
Casting The Dukes of Hazzard was also a perilous and daring adventure. The film’s two stars, Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott are known for being funny but not necessarily carrying lead roles in films. Although they definitely have on-screen chemistry, they fail to really do anything interesting with their roles. They mostly oogle, awgle, giggle and carouse their way from car chase to car chase for ninety minutes. Despite having their comedic moments, Scott and Knoxville appear completely miscast. Knoxville’ Luke Duke is funny, subtle, and restrained when compared to Scott’s high-energy, over-the-top ratatat Bo Duke. Despite some genuinely funny buffoonery, both actors fail to move beyond the one-dimensional. Oftentimes they are saddled with delivering variations of the same joke ad nauseum.
As for Jessica Simpson, her big screen debut doesn’t do anything more than anticipated. Daisy Duke is expected to carry the sex appeal and Simpson does that to the delight of pubescent boys and lecherous old men everywhere. Just like the TV show, Daisy is brassy and sexy and somehow manages to bail out her cousins with her womanly wiles. Simpson’s performance, bad accent and all, hurt the film. Fortunately for the WB, her popularity as a sex symbol makes up the difference. Her approach begs the question: why does a native Southerner like Simpson need to use a seriously over-the-top accent? Despite her shortcomings, starring in The Dukes of Hazzard was probably a smart career move for the singer. Her surprising adeptness for comedy will work well for her down the road if she chooses better scripted film vehicles.
Willie Nelson is perfectly suited to play Uncle Jesse. His Uncle Jesse is irascible, and firm, yet charming and easygoing enough to be likeable. It is obvious that Nelson really digs the character. His acting is natural and his timing is perfect. He obviously is having fun poking fun at this normally no nonsense guy who is willing to do whatever is necessary to keep his family together.
Then there is Burt Reynolds as Boss Hogg. Reynolds plays Hogg as lighter Buford T. Justice type with very little feeling and hardly any menace. Most of Reynolds’ onscreen time is spent mugging it up in front of the camera. His role in The Dukes of Hazzard is basically an uninspired cameo drawn out for over an hour.
The Dukes of Hazzard is not a terribly good movie. But it is a film that plays to the niche crowd of gearheads, rednecks, NASCAR fans, bumpkins, hormone raged teenagers and dads eager to see Jessica Simpson. Nonetheless, it will do well at the box office because Redneck America lives for this sort of thing. That’s why The Dukes of Hazzard has no pretensions as to what it is, mindless escapism for those who like cars, girls and thrillbilly kicks. Anyone looking for insignificant things like plot, characters or acting will be disappointed.