The Dukes of Hazzard
Two good ol' boys never meanin' no harm still have car wreck at box office
The Dukes of Hazzard
Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar
Cast: Seann William Scott, Johnny Knoxville, Burt Reynolds
As in any lasting culture, there are hallmark moments in redneck history: the release of Lynyrd Skynyrd's 1973 album Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd (featuring "Free Bird"), the invention of the Koozie brand foam beer can cooler, the birth of Dale Earnhardt, the publication of Jeff Foxworthy's You Might Be a Redneck If ... jokebook, the January 26, 1979, premiere of “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
OK, so it's not the sort of legacy that the Babylonians left behind. (Although You Might Be a Redneck If ... is marginally funnier than the Code of Hammurabi.) Nonetheless, it's a historical tradition that any self-respecting Appalachian-American can be proud of.
It's doubtful, though, that Warner Brothers was looking for a way to reach God-fearing, Hemi-loving Southern audiences when it greenlighted the new Dukes of Hazzard feature. No, like The Addams Family, The Flintstones, McHale's Navy, Sgt. Bilko, The Fugitive, Mission: Impossible, Charlie's Angels, Scooby Doo, Starsky & Hutch, SWAT, Bewitched, The Honeymooners and countless others before it, the studio was simply looking for a cheap and easy way to prey on people's nostalgia.
With a minimum of effort, some studio executives turned on MTV, chose a handful of random, teen-appeal stars (Johnny Knoxville from “Jackass,” American Pie's Seann William Scott, bubbleheaded singer Jessica Simpson) and tossed them into a cookie cutter remake. Oddly enough, directing duties fell into the lap of Jay Chandrasekhar, a member of Colgate University's Broken Lizard comedy troupe. Some time after graduation, Chandrasekhar and his Yankee compatriots went on to create the semi-successful cult comedies Super Troopers and Club Dread. Unfortunately, only a tiny portion of Broken Lizard's comic mayhem is allowed to leak into Dukes of Hazzard.
The script is less of a story and more of an excuse to kick up a lot of dust racing around for an hour and a half. Knoxville's Luke Duke is a skeevy man-whore with a penchant for sleeping with every female (attached or unattached) in Georgia's rural Hazzard County. Scott's Bo Duke, meanwhile, is a naïve clutch jockey who cares far more about cars than girls. Together, the two cousins run afoul of evil county commissioner Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds, chewing far less scenery than it seems he's been given license to). You see, Hogg has an evil scheme to foreclose on the Duke family farm so that he can strip-mine it for coal. Fortunately, them crazy Duke boys come up with a clever plan to save the farm in the nick of time (which, none too surprisingly, involves the General Lee and a road rally).
Lacking the winking parody of The Brady Bunch (or even the goofball jiggle of Charlie's Angels), The Dukes of Hazzard is a surprisingly low-key, low-stakes affair. Aping the show to a T—right down to the cornpone narrator (Junior Brown subbing for Waylon Jennings)—the film plays just like an extended TV episode, circa 1983. The Broken Lizard boys (all of whom drop by for cameos) manage to toss in a few drug- and sex-related jokes for the teenage boys in the audience, but these only seem to sully the original material.
A handful of promising cameos doesn't add up to much, either. Willie Nelson is nicely cast but severely underutilized as Uncle Jesse. Jessica Simpson wiggles her booty and all but chokes on her "Jaw-juh" accent. (Fortunately, she doesn't have many lines.) Former "Wonder Woman" Lynda Carter is on hand for reasons unbeknownst to anyone but the director. And how fruity comic Rip Taylor ended up in the closing credits bloopers is a mystery on par with the Bermuda Triangle. The show's cleverest joke may be in casting Joe Don Baker as the governor—but that's only amusing to audience members old enough to remember Baker starred in the 1972 southern classic Walking Tall when wrestlin' thespian The Rock (who headlined the 2004 remake) was still in Huggies.
With comic moments pared to a minimum, audience members are forced to rely on the film's “action.” The General Lee gets its airborne due, jumping over the requisite tow trucks, freeway embankments and washed-out bridges. But even such vehicular mayhem is sadly unexciting in Chandrasekhar's not-quite-prepared hands. I never thought I'd find myself missing the halcyon days of stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham (Smokey and The Bandit, Hooper, Cannonball Run, Stroker Ace), but he always delivered on the sort of silly, speed-crazed fun that this Dukes of Hazzard is sorely lacking.
So, if you're a dyed-in-the-wool redneck looking for some real Southern Culture, forget about The Dukes of Hazzard. Just rent you a couple o' them Hal Needham videos and break out the pork rinds. Yee-haw!