Burt Reynolds fired his agent after Boogie Nights. If he has a lick of sense in his head, he’ll kill his agent after Dukes of Hazzard. The movie, an adaptation of the popular TV show, has the distinction of being one of the worst films I have sat through so far this year. It’s a movie whose biggest redeeming value is that it ends. (And, giving up my shield of snideness for a moment, it ends with a wildly entertaining set of outtakes. More on that in the paragraph where I feel charitable to the sons of bitches who made this movie)
I was actually hopeful about the film. While never a fan of the TV series, which was the kind of show I only watched because we had five channels back in the day, the movie is directed by Jay Chandrasekhar, and rewritten by his buddies in the comedy troupe Broken Lizard. I have to break CHUD ranks here briefly and out myself as no big fan of Broken Lizard – I found Super Troopers intermittently amusing, but a recent attempt at watching Club Dread had me contemplating a new career in a Tibetan monastery, far from TVs and movie screens. Still, I figured putting the film in the hands of bona fide comedy types would be a good move – there was no way anyone was going to take a movie about a bunch of moonshining rednecks seriously in 2005 anyway. And I figured that comedians would do with Dukes what Starsky & Hutch failed to do, which was be funny.
The truth is that Dukes of Hazzard isn’t trying to be all that funny. Until it is, at which point it’s dreadfully unfunny. See, Chandrasekhar and friends have opted for a loving adaptation of the material, which means that they’re shooting for a light hearted action film. Interestingly enough, it seems like they don’t have that in them, and the few moments when the movie devolves into open mockery of its concepts and characters are the only moments worth watching. In other words there’s about 6 viewable minutes in this whole thing. Including the aforementioned bloopers (which are so much funnier than anything that has gone before that you feel like Chandrasekhar is rubbing your face in how shitty his movie is).
The basic premise of the film is like someone caught a marathon of the show on CMT and sort of nodded in and out throughout the whole thing, their sleepy mind mashing storylines together. The Duke boys discover that Boss Hogg has a terrible plan to stripmine Hazzard County, their beloved backwoods home. Meanwhile, an old hometown hero has returned to race again in the Hazzard County Offroad Derby or something, and Bo Duke is both starstruck and eager to show him up.
But the storyline is only a structure to hang car chases and gags that wouldn’t be funny to a short bus full of kids. Which wouldn’t be that bad if the film at least had leading men worth watching. It pains me to say that because I am huge supporter of Johnny Knoxville. I think he’s a natural screen presence, a charismatic guy who’s just fun to watch. I want him to be a major star, appearing in major films. But here he’s constrained, bottled, reigned in. He’s lost the anarchic magic that makes him great elsewhere, and he’s reduced to reeling off shitty one-liners and mugging for the camera. At one point the General Lee runs over a lawn ornament deer and Knoxville says, “Oh dear!”
He plays Luke. Seann William Scott plays Bo, in a performance that has finally decided Devin Faraci’s Seann William Scott Problem – namely that he seems like the kind of actor who, given the right role, could shine. He’s a guy who might be funny. I saw glimmers of a persona I could like in previous roles. But here he’s tilted the scales – if Scott’s career should end tonight, our filmgoing public should be glad. He’s abrasive and annoying, his beady eyes staring blankly ahead as he shrilly declaims his “jokes.”
The rest of the cast certainly fares no better. Playing Uncle Jesse, Willie Nelson is an actual embarrassment. I cringed many times during his scenes, and I was thanking God that he’s probably too stoned to realize how terribly he’s coming across. Burt Reynolds clawed his way out of being a punchline, but it seems like he was more comfortable there. His performance as Boss Hogg evokes hatred, and not for the character. MC Gainey, whose resume is filled with roles that don’t have names but rather descriptions – Bartender, Large Man, Horrifying Bouncing Penis Guy In Sideways – plays Roscoe P Coltrane, but in this version Coltrane is a flat out villain, a nasty guy who seems to be the only character paying even lip service to reality. He’s just unpleasant.
How bad does this cast acquit themselves? Jessica Simpson, as Daisy Duke, might be the best actor in this farce. She brings a post-modern irony to the role, a Daisy who’s a little too good for all these hijinks. Plus she has killer tits. For fans of Broken Lizard, all of the members of the troupe appear in the film in various parts, and the movie does have a Super Troopers cameo that is so forced and unfunny that it stands out amidst all the rest of the unfunny crap in this film.
What I don’t get is why this is a movie in the first place, and I don’t mean that in some meta-“Why do they keep making movies out of TV shows” way. Dukes of Hazzard doesn’t feel like a movie. It’s small, and it doesn’t move the characters very far outside of the confined settings of the original TV show. They do travel to Atlanta, but that doesn’t end up carrying a lot of comedy potential. Bizarrely I found myself wishing the film had just followed some hackneyed storyline – sending the Dukes up North to be fishes out of water, or having yuppie developers come to Hazzard to build a mall – just to give the film the sense that it had gone beyond a TV pilot.
Take the trip to Atlanta – the film is not parodying the original show, like the funny Brady Bunch movie, or lampooning redneck culture. The trip ends up containing one funny moment (and to be fair, possibly the funniest moment in the film that doesn’t involve Knoxville showing Seann William Scott his nuts in an outtake), where a group of black toughs notice the Confederate flag on the roof of the General Lee – and the Dukes happen to be, improbably, in blackface. More of that, more of the country mouse in the big city, could have served the film well. Instead the movie eschews almost any storyline and gets to jumping cars over things.
What’s most tragic is that the chases – the big selling point of this film, after Simpson’s knockers – are boring. Just dull. There are a couple of good ideas for chases here – a convoy of cop cars after the General Lee end up joining the offroad rally – but they never seem to be realized. Chandrasekhar shoots a lot of the chases much like the original TV show with its modest TV show budget. There’s one fantastic jump, where the General Lee leaps onto a highway overpass, but I can’t even tell if that jump was fantastic only when measured against the generic other action scenes.
Halfway through Dukes of Hazzard I thought about walking out. I know how tough it is to make that decision, to have spent money on the ticket and bought your popcorn and soda, and to have invested forty five minutes in the thing already. So let me save you the choice – stay far, far away from Dukes of Hazzard this weekend.
3.0 out of 10