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The Dukes of Hazzard   C-

Warner Bros. Pictures / Village Roadshow Pictures

Year Released: 2005
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Jay Chandrasekhar
Writer: John O'Brien
Cast: Johnny Knoxville, Seann William Scott, Jessica Simpson, Burt Reynolds, Joe Don Baker, Lynda Carter, Willie Nelson.

Review by Rob Vaux

Nostalgia is overrated, oversold, and overpriced, but the habit of playing off people's fond memories has become so ingrained into the Hollywood machine that it can't be extracted without causing irreparable damage. That's the problem with efforts like The Dukes of Hazzard: they're selling nostalgia in a saturated market and yet they don't know how to do anything else. We can already find the TV show on multiple cable stations, and the first four of its seven seasons are available on DVD. So why do we need a movie rehashing the same old thing? Oh, that's right, because Warner Bros. wants a bigger slice of our wallets. The Dukes of Hazzard is a prime example of marketing for marketing's sake. It hawks a great empty void of car crashes and idiot yodeling, generating the buzz of an event picture for no other reason than to sucker a few more teenagers out of their money.

The original show was hardly brilliant, but it holds iconic value and a sense of dumb fun that many of us remember with great fondness (so sue us; we were eight). Stars John Schneider and Tom Wopat were wholesome and likeable, and certainly didn't look like they had spent the night humping polecats in the woods... unlike Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott, who play the movie versions of Bo Duke and his cousin Luke. They're more grubby man-children here, not repugnant so much as figures of obvious ridicule. This epitomizes The Dukes of Hazzard's main problem, which has doomed so many similar projects before it: in reimagining the material, it tries to honor it while still sending it up. Director Jay Chandrasekhar doesn't get either half of the equation right.

Fans of the original show will find the storyline familiar, as Bo and Luke thwart the greasy machinations of county ruler Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds) and his lackey, Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane (M.C. Gainey). The specifics involve the annual Hazzard County road rally and a plan to turn the Dukes' farm into a giant strip mine; it would have felt right at home with any of the show's endearingly goofy plots. The trouble is, it lacks any sense of energy or zip; it just regurgitates the old tropes and expects -- by virtue of vague approximation -- to receive our approval. The effect is very cynical and corporate, designed around Pavlovian assumptions that soon become insulting. Whenever the Dukes' Dodge Charger, the General Lee, jumps over a bridge, or their cousin Daisy (Jessica Simpson) seduces the local constabulary, you can sense the bloodless, calculated memo that mandated their appearance.

Chandrasekhar does a little better when applying the now-standard postmodern spin to the proceedings, but only a little. Certainly, the TV show, with its Southern stereotypes and chicken-fried corniness, was fertile ground for satire. The film tries to mine humor simply by placing the out-of-date characters in a world closer to 21st-century reality -- for example, by sending the Duke boys to Atlanta, where the Confederate flag on the top of their car draws a less-than-welcoming response. But while a few gags work, the majority simply don't put in the effort to properly exploit their concepts. The occasional bizarre meta-reference (The Usual Suspects, the director's earlier Broken Lizard work) does nothing to alleviate the problem, and periodically sends the film into uneven skids.

The performances are all decent enough for such undemanding work, save for a miscast Reynolds and Simpson, who skates on the thin ice of her pop-star charm (sweetie, if you're from Texas and you can't handle a basic Southern accent, then perhaps acting should not be a part of your plan for global domination). But even undemanding work shouldn't feel so empty or devoid of purpose. Everything here is factory-made, and while the film's aggressive tone tries to keep us juiced, its prepackaged assembly crushes the hope of even modest entertainment. The Dukes of Hazzard is a lunch box in cinematic form: another half-assed excuse to slap a label on something and shill it to the crowd.

Review published 08.05.2005.

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