Fri, Sep 02, 2005 - Page 16 News List

Warning: Hazzardous

'Dukes' contains wreckless driving and tiny shorts

By A.O. Scott  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

The Dukes of Hazzard is the latest evidence that, for Hollywood studios at least, there can never be too much of a mediocre thing.

Some folks who were in grade school in the late 1970s and early 1980s may have fond memories of the original CBS series, which caught the tail end of the era's rednexploitation boom, but those people are probably perfectly happy to watch reruns on cable. The series' enduring contribution to the culture was lending the name of one of its secondary characters to cutoff denim shorts. Come to think of it, that may be the reason for this thoroughly pointless big-screen adaptation, which features the enigmatic Jessica Simpson as Daisy Duke, the sight of whose body will apparently turn any man in the state of Georgia into a drooling moron.

Which, according to this picture, is a pretty short trip. The Dukes of Hazzard, directed by Jay Chandrasekhar (Super Troopers) from a script by John O'Brien (Starsky and Hutch), sells itself as a good-natured exercise in rebel pride, a red-blooded red-state romp replete with moonshine, shotguns, stock car rallies and Southern belles. (There is also, by the way, quite a lot of swearing for a PG-13 movie.) But let's be honest: what this really is is a white-face minstrel show, which happily traffics in stereotypes, hoping that the people being made fun of -- white, rural Southerners -- will laugh along instead of picketing or writing angry letters. (If the box-office performances of the season's other two big television-recycling movie projects -- The Honeymooners and Bewitched -- are any indication, what Southerners and most other Americans are more likely to do is stay home.)

Film Notes:

The Dukes of Hazzard

Directed by: Jay Chandrasekhar

Starring: Johnny Knoxville (Luke Duke), Seann William Scott (Bo Duke), Jessica Simpson (Daisy Duke), Burt Reynolds (Boss Hogg), Joe Don Baker (Governor Jim Applewhite), Lynda Carter (Pauline), Willie Nelson (Uncle Jesse), Kevin Heffernan (Sheev) and James Roday (Billy Prickett).

Running time: 103 minutes

Taiwan Release: Today


It would help if the movie were actually funny -- or if it actually bothered to be a movie, rather than some car chases punctuated by shots of Simpson sashaying toward the camera (or more often, away from it). There is very little real Southern flavor or humor, though a few supporting performances are amusing (notably Kevin Heffernan as the Dukes' pal Sheev), and some of the automotive mayhem is fun, especially when it partakes of the anarchic spirit of Johnny Knoxville's do-it-yourself Jackass stunts.

Knoxville plays Luke, who rides shotgun in the General Lee, the bright orange Dodge Charger driven by his cousin Bo (Seann William Scott). Scott (no relation) deploys the same antic, wide-mouthed goofiness he brought to the American Pie movies, but with facial stubble as unconvincing as the Southern accent he occasionally tries out. Knoxville, whose adopted surname is a tribute to his Tennessee hometown, is a bit more credible as a good ol' boy.

Not that authenticity is really the point, notwithstanding the participation of Willie Nelson and of Burt Reynolds, who personified mid-1970's Southern macho in movies like Gator and of course Smokey and the Bandit. Reynolds, in a white Cadillac and a matching ice cream suit, is Boss Hogg, the corrupt local official who is Luke and Bo's nemesis. He is seizing land -- including the Duke farm -- to convert Hazzard County into a strip mine, and using a hometown racing legend named Billy Prickett (James Roday) to advance his dastardly scheme.

The Duke boys run moonshine for their Uncle Jesse, played by Nelson with the mellow ease of a man who can earn a paycheck just by showing up. Well, he does a little more than that. He tells a few bad jokes, punches Reynolds in the face and then sings the old Dukes of Hazzard theme song over the final credits and the blooper reel.

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