Friday, December 1, 2006

The Dukes of Hazzard


Should be Cuffed and Stuffed

I grew up watching The Dukes of Hazzard, a TV show which ran from 1979-1985 and appeared every Friday night just before Dallas. It concerned a couple of fast-drivin’ “good ol’ boys” and their family who constantly thwarted the local bonehead sheriff and his crooked boss. It was good, dumb fun, with heart, a sense of humor, and a lot of country music. In the new movie version there are similarities, especially the “dumb” part.

Fast-drivin’ “good ol’ boys” Bo and Luke Duke (Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott) have a family business: run their Uncle Jesse’s (Willie Nelson) moonshine. With the help of sexy cousin Daisy (Jessica Simpson), they are constantly on the run from boneheaded Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane (M.C. Gainey), who does the bidding of the crooked Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds). Can the Dukes save Hazzard County before Boss turns it into a strip mine? Can the filmmakers make us care?

There is some bad casting in this movie, most notably Burt Reynolds. He plays Hogg (a role I would have given to Danny DeVito, given his similarities to the late Sorrell Booke) as one of the most non-threatening, lethargic, limp noodles of a villain I have ever seen. He is just awful, mugging his way from scene to scene. M.C. Gainey (Are We There Yet?) doesn’t make a very good Rosco either, but at least he appears to be trying.

Another offender is Willie Nelson. Where Reynolds is weak, Nelson is just plain wooden. He reads his lines (apparently off of a cue card) like a robot, and when he emerges from an outhouse in an cloud of pot smoke (!), you wonder if he is really “acting”.

I liked Seann William Scott’s crazy-eyed version of Luke. He’s got a ton of manic energy, and it’s kind of catchy. Jessica Simpson is basically a stereotype (that’s all the script gives her to do), showing up to use her body as a weapon, then disappearing. I also liked Kevin Heffernan (Sky High) as Sheev , a conspiracy theorist who likes armadillo helmets.

None of the original cast members show up (perhaps they read the script?), and the only real connection to the original show are the names and the General Lee, an orange 1969 Dodge Charger with a confederate flag painted on the roof (not PC to be sure, but it does lead to a funny scene capitalizing on this).

Another problem is tone. This version has taken the source material and mixed it with a considerable amount of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. Every young woman is a scantily clad bimbo, marijuana seems to be everyone’s drug of choice and AC/DC even appears on the soundtrack. Any fan of the original series will be put off by all of this, leaving them little reason for a viewing. The movie is left to stand on its own, which proves difficult.

There are a few good moments (like the mispronouncing of Deputy Enos’ name), and a lot of head-scratchers. Consider: could the Duke boys really fool a college lab student into thinking they were Japanese businessmen? Would the governor of Georgia really just “pardon” everyone at the end of the movie, then go smoke dope with Uncle Jesse? Could mechanic Cooter (David Koechner) really restore (and I mean restore!) the bashed-up General Lee in one day, just in time for the big race? I realize its fantasy, but come on…

Of course the movie has its requisite car chases and stunts, which was par for the course in the TV show. The whole affair reminded of one of those cheesy auto demolition “comedies” from the 70’s like Smokey and the Bandit (Reynolds again-bleh!) or Grand Theft Auto. It was a simple formula: wreck a lot of cars in lieu of writing a real script and maybe the audience won’t notice!

Early in the film, Cooter pokes his head into the vandalized General Lee, where a dead raccoon has been left. He lets out a wail of “Weeeooo!” to describe the stench. Great metaphor for not so great a movie.

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