I loathe the ‘70s.
I grew up during that most tasteless of decades, so I’m allowed. And while my memories of the early part are hazy, I recall enough to be a little perplexed at the enthusiasm with which people continue to revisit it. The clothing was repulsive, radio stations played the worst sort of gutless crap, and TV offerings were by and large a collection of cheesy cop shows, overwrought soap operas, and dopey sitcoms.
Falling somewhere in the cracks of those categories was “The Dukes of Hazzard,” the latest of that era’s small screen properties to get the big screen treatment. Debuting in 1979, it told the story of a couple of Georgia good old boys, fighting corruption in their souped-up Dodge Charger. Directed by Broken Lizard’s Jay Chandrasekhar and written by John O’Brien (who also penned the Starsky and Hutch adaptation, which should raise some hackles right off the bat), the movie aims to update the story for modern times. How successful it is at this will depend in large part on how you, the discerning moviegoing public, enjoy shots to the groin and the nuanced humor of Johnny Knoxville.
In the TV show, cousins Bo and Luke Duke were on probation for running moonshine. In the movie, Bo (Seann William Scott) and Luke (Knoxville) are still at it, delivering jars of their Uncle Jesse’s white lightning in the General Lee, with an occasional detour so Luke can nail the daughter of a local farmer. This leads to just one of the many high speed chases featured in the movie, and one wrecked Charger and a bar brawl later, the plot (such as it is) kicks in. It seems the evil Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds) has seized Uncle Jesse’s (Willie Nelson) farm for a nefarious plan that really doesn’t merit further explanation. The Dukes, in a tradition dating all the way back to “The Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Hour,” resolve to get to the bottom of things.
Boss Hogg also tries to nab the General Lee, which has been repaired, rebuilt, and repainted in the space of six hours by the industrious Cooter. The Dukes escape, and the rest of the movie involves a series of intermittently humorous scenes punctuated by car chases as Bo and Luke attempt to thwart Boss Hogg’s scheme.
“The Dukes of Hazzard” is loud, juvenile, and eminently low-brow, which is to say it’s quite similar to the TV show upon which its based. One key difference is the portrayal of the Dukes themselves, who have transmogrified from likeable and mostly well-meaning fellows into slightly deranged rednecks. Another is the way the movie’s been “Jackass”-icized for today’s discerning theatergoers. Bo and Luke take great pleasure in blowing s**t up, as well as (for example) beating on each other with a phone book and dragging one another behind cars. Chandrasekhar is obviously playing to Knoxville’s strengths, and while some of it elicits a chuckle or two, it gets old quick.
Of course, nobody here is making much of an effort (Knoxville and Nelson are essentially playing themselves, Reynolds coasts to another paycheck, and Lynda Carter appears to have had a good chunk of her scenes deleted entirely), except for Scott, who makes the most of his situation. His Bo may be a far cry from John Schneider’s, but he does the best job. The chase scenes were competent, if mostly unspectacular, and singer Junior Brown does a passable job taking over narration duties from the late, great Waylon Jennings.
And who can forget Jessica Simpson? You will, if you’re lucky. She fulfills her contractual obligation admirably, meaning she shakes her a*s well and does a commendable job filling out a bikini. Just make sure you exit the theater before her god-awful version of “These Boots Are Made for Walking” starts playing during the end credits, or you may find yourself taking the straw from your drink and puncturing your own eardrums in self defense.
Will you enjoy “The Dukes of Hazzard?” Depends. Do you think hearing Willie Nelson threaten to “bust a cap in someone’s a*s” is entertaining? Do you enjoy jokes about falling on one’s sphincter? How about Chandrasekhar revisiting the opening scene from “Super Troopers” (which will be lost on everyone but the 50 people who watched the original)? Or the legendary Joe Don Baker relegated to playing the bumbling governor?
If you answered “yes” to the majority of those questions, Warner Bros. has the movie for you. I will say, however, to stick around for the blooper reel, it has the biggest laughs of the whole movie (and Baker does get the best line).
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