Johnny Knoxville as Luke Duke and Seann William Scott as Bo Duke in Warner Bros. Pictures' The Dukes of Hazzard - 2005
Man. I’m three for three on my movie choices here lately. First, The Island leaves me high and dry. Then Stealth blunders its way to a crash and burn. And now this: a beloved icon from my childhood left in smoldering ruins on the side of the highway.
Rarely have I seen as inept an attempt at moviemaking as evidenced in the massive error in judgement that is The Dukes of Hazzard. Now, I will concede to those who say I should have known better. I mean, I’ve seen the preview, I’ve read the articles, I knew what I was in for. But no. No one could have been prepared for this. However, before I delve deeply into the myriad problems with this film, I should give credit where credit is due. There were some pretty good car chases. Ok. I’ve said it. A friend of mine, when I gave her this concession, chastised me by saying, “Well, that’s all we watched the TV show for, isn’t it?” Well, yes, that’s true (and to watch Daisy Duke. I mean, c’mon, I was a twelve-year-old boy.) But the rest of the show was at least affable, if not high drama. Not so with the big screen version. Oh, and the movie has a rockin’ soundtrack. That was good too. But that’s pretty much it.
If you are too young to remember, or if you just never went in for goofy hillbilly stock car antics, the story is basically this: Cousins Luke and Bo Duke are the terror of Hazzard County. They’re just good old boys, never meanin’ no harm - been in trouble with the law since the day they was born. Makin’ their waaaaay... sorry. I got a little carried away there. Anyway, these backwoods hooligans with hearts of gold are in constant conflict with the man, in this case Boss Hogg, a wealthy and corrupt Dixiecrat who has the sheriff, one Roscoe P. Coltrane, in his hip pocket. Seems Boss Hogg always has some evil scheme up his sleeve and it’s up to the Duke boys, with the help of irascible Uncle Jesse and sexy cousin Daisy, to save the day. That’s the basic outline, and in the early eighties writers of the show were able to mine that melodrama for all it was worth. Flash forward to 2005 and we have essentially the same drama going on. This time around, Boss Hogg wants Hazzard County for a strip mining scheme and it’s up to the boys to win the big race and rally the townsfolk. The problem is not with the plot. It’s a fine storyline, considering the source material. I mean we’re not going for Ibsen here. No, the problems arise elsewhere - namely, the casting, acting, writing, and directing. Nothing big.
In the show, Bo and Luke were played by wannabe country music singers John Schneider and Tom Wopat, respectively. No great thespians, the boys were likeable, hunky, and experts at running circles around the inept sheriff and his deputies. Like the song says, modern day Robin Hoods. In a decidedly different take on the characterization, the Hollywood Hazzard picks Sean William Scott, one of the geniuses behind Dude, Where’s my Car? as Bo, and Johnny Knoxville, a true Jackass, as Luke. The two together end up creating what is, essentially, the Dumb and Dumber Dukes. In fact, the film almost revels in their idiocy. Not that the material they had to work with was any better. The dialogue is some of the worst I’ve heard all year. It’s hard to tell whether Jessica Simpson (as sexy cousin Daisy) is really a bad actress, or if it’s just the lines she was asked to deliver. Double goes for Willie Nelson, as Uncle Jesse, and Burt Reynolds, as Boss Hogg. Mindnumbingly bad writing reduces these two icons to blabbering morons.
Most of the blame for this mess, I think, can fall at the feet of one Jay Chandrasekhar, the director of this dreck, as well as the various Broken Lizard comedies. His Super Troopers was a big hit, partly because it was cheap to make, and because it’s stupidity seemed to mask well-timed comedic gold. I’m beginning to think that film was a fluke because his follow-up, Club Dread, and Dukes are anything but well-timed, and about as far from comedic gold as you can get. It’s almost as though he doesn’t know whether he wants to create a parody version, ala The Brady Bunch, or a serious adaptation ala... Star Trek, I guess. And so he waffles back and forth until neither goal is achieved. There were a few funny moments, such as the reaction the boys get from 21st century urbanites to the Confederate flag on the roof of the General Lee, but these instances only served to suggest what kind of a movie we might have had. A show like The Dukes of Hazzard is a product of it’s time. It can no more be transplanted in 2005, than you could set up a moonshine operation on Bourbon Street. It makes no sense. This film could have benefitted from an ironic, self-aware tone that was, apparently, just a little bit more than the law would allow. Grade: D
The Dukes of Hazzard is rated PG-13 for pointless foul language and Jessica Simpson in her Daisy Dukes.
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