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Dustin Putman

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The Dukes of Hazzard (2005)
1 Stars

Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar
Cast: Johnny Knoxville, Seann William Scott, Jessica Simpson, Burt Reynolds, Willie Nelson, Lynda Carter, M.C. Gainey, David Koechner, Jack Polick, Michael Roof, James Roday, Kevin Heffernan, Charlie Finn, Joe Don Baker, Nikki Griffin, Jacqui Maxwell, Alice Greczyn, Paul Soter, Jay Chandrasekhar, Erik Stolhanske, Kim Wall
2005 – 106 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for sexual content, crude and drug-related humor, language and violence).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 2, 2005.

If every conceivable past television hit must be turned into a feature film these days—original thought, it would seem, ceases to exist in mainstream cinema—at least be inventive and have some fun with it. 1995's "The Brady Bunch Movie" (placing the terminally '70s nuclear family in a modern day world) and 2000's "Charlie's Angels" (to date, the best series-to-movie adaptation) did just that, making what could have been painfully tedious regurgitations into something a whole lot fresher and wittier than expected.

Based on the late-'70s/early-'80s cheesetastic action series, "The Dukes of Hazzard" clearly has no such aspirations, content to play itself out almost exactly like a protracted episode. The changes that are made—cruder humor and language, more excessive violence—are wrongheaded and reach for the lowest-common-denominator in lethargic filmmaking. It's a major disappointment, if for no other reason than because director Jay Chandrasekhar, he of the Broken Lizards troupe (2004's "Club Dread," 2002's "Super Troopers"), is known for his expertly sly, wildly offbeat humor. Somewhere along the way, that personal flair for comedy has been siphoned to the point of virtual nonexistence.

The plot hardly matters, there to vaguely string together a series of car chases, each more over-the-top and decidedly grisly in nature than the last. For what it's worth, not-so-good "good old boys" Bo (Seann William Scott) and Luke Duke (Johnny Knoxville) are back to their hell-raising ways, eluding the authorities while setting out to stop slimy commissioner Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds) from destroying their moonshine-making Uncle Jesse's (Willie Nelson) farm and demolishing the whole of Hazzard County. Also along for the ride is buxom Daisy Dukes-wearing cousin Daisy Duke (Jessica Simpson), helping out her family the only way she knows how: with her generous cleavage.

Loud, chaotic, and mind-numbing, "The Dukes of Hazzard" has one goal: to tug its audience into submission by sheer force of its noisiness. What it achieves, however, is all the more lugubrious and ugly with each new scene of nothingness. A black hole of a movie without anything original to do or anything interesting to say, the film is reminiscent of a guideline for what not to do when remaking old television shows for the big screen. Whereas cousins and best friends Bo and Luke had an innocence about them in the series that offset their frequent criminal acts, their filmic counterparts are just plain creepy in their joy of destruction and disregard for anyone but themselves. So narcissistic are they that, when Bo calls Luke his "BFF (Best Friend Forever)" in one scene, it doesn't feel authentic; they spend most of the movie arguing. The extreme violence does these characters no favors, with so many nasty car crashes being caused by them that you almost want to root for them being locked up. As people, neither Bo nor Luke (or anyone else onscreen, for that matter) approach more than one dimension. In place of endearment are a duo of jackasses.

The would-be comedy in "The Dukes of Hazzard" accounts for, at most, five funny moments in the span of 106 minutes, and even now, only hours after having seen the picture, I can't remember what it was I laughed at. As Bo Duke, Seann William Scott has trouble leaving his Steve Stifler persona from the "American Pie" trilogy behind, and more often than not looks psychotic. At least he makes an impression, which is more than can be said about the non-presence that is Johnny Knoxville (2004's "Walking Tall"), as Luke Duke. Knoxville is in practically every scene, and yet his work is so thoroughly forgettable that he might as well have had a cameo.

A cameo isn't far from what singer-turned-actress Jessica Simpson has to work with. Despite getting her name above the title, Simpson's Daisy Duke is on hand for only a handful of substantial scenes, and—no lie—doesn't exchange a single line of dialogue with Bo or Luke throughout. As a physical object, which is all that the brainless screenplay by John O'Brien (2004's "Starsky & Hutch") treats her as, present-day feminism and modern advancements for women be damned, Simpson looks practically flawless in her skintight outfits and signature shorts. As an actress, though, Simpson suffers from a perpetual blankness, as if all she has going on upstairs is trying to remember her next line. Rounding out the central cast, Burt Reynolds (2005's "The Longest Yard") is a miscast, slimmed-down-for-no-good-reason Boss Hogg, and Willie Nelson (2004's "The Big Bounce") is wasted as Uncle Jesse.

"The Dukes of Hazzard" chooses dimwittedness over smarts and sluggish plotting over any attempt to expand and delve into the aspects of the old series that made it such a silly pleasure. Its bankruptcy of ideas, good or otherwise, do not go unnoticed. All that is left, then, are the impressive innumerable car stunts, which can just as easily be enjoyed at home watching a high-throttle episode of "Cops." Long before the end-credits outtakes have arrived (more entertaining than anything in the film proper, by the way), the grim reality of the finished product has become clear. A movie out to sell millions of tickets without anyone involved having tried to make something worth two cents, "The Dukes of Hazzard" is lazy, empty filmmaking. That it isn't outright terrible only makes its utter pointlessness all the more glaring.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman