The Dukes of Hazzard is an American pop culture institution. It began as just a simple Recession-era family TV show about the Dukes, a family of three cousins (Bo, Luke & Daisy) and their matriarch Uncle Jesse who struggled each week to save their town from the dastardly Boss Hogg and the incompetent Hazzard County Police, led by the bungling Roscoe P. Coltrane.
The series followed the Dukes’ wacky escapades and offered Americans a southern fried jaunt into the life of a rural American family and their epic struggle to hang on against corruption through thick and thin.
Just released as a spruced up sliced of southern fried cinema, The Dukes of Hazzard finally has broken out of the boob tube and into the movie house. The television show captured the important family values of the mid 1980s and represented the values of beating adversity, fighting for justice, and smuggling moonshine. Now however, a money-starved Hollywood has launched a sexually-charged and refitted version for a feature film franchise. Although this faster, sleeker and sexier grown up Dukes of Hazzard still retains the basic premise of the series it bares more likeness to films like Smokey & the Bandit and Cannonball Run.
As a feature The Dukes of Hazzard still covers familiar turf, the Dukes, (Bo, Luke & Daisy) three cousins and their matriarch Uncle Jesse, struggle to save their farm and their town from the dastardly Boss Hogg and the incompetent Hazzard County Police, led by the bungling Roscoe P. Coltrane.
It wouldn’t be The Dukes of Hazzard if Boss Hogg didn’t try to get their farm. With this in mind, the movie centers on Boss Hogg’s confiscating the Duke farm which just happens to be smack dab in the middle of his planned strip mining project. Also, just like every TV episode, The Dukes do not aim to be told what to do by anyone, especially a redneck gangster and his crooked sheriff.
This time around Hogg is out to strip mine an unsuspecting Hazzard County for his own financial gains. But before any dirt can be shoveled Hogg must deal with this pesky thing called the law and hold a public hearing. Remarkably Hogg schedules the inquest to coincide with Hazzard County’s biggest social event, an annual car race. To ensure the success of this fiendish plan Hogg enlists Hazzard’s NASCAR hero, Billy Prickett (James Roday channeling Ben Stiller), to keep the kind townsfolk preoccupied.
The Dukes, are alerted Boss Hogg’s plan through Daisy’s careful investigation, (with more than a little help from the libido of Deputy Enos). What ensues is a badly-acted melee of car chases, crude jokes, explosions and sexual innuendo filled short shorts that is guaranteed to touch a happy nerve in the hearts and minds of rednecks everywhere.
Despite the basic recipe for success, taking a timeless classic like The Dukes of Hazzard and transforming in into a big budget film was no easy task. That’s why the suits at Warner Brothers used every trick in the book to get people out of Wal-Mart and into their movie. They utilized Jessica’s Simpson’s down-home sex appeal, special effects and even cashed in on the popularity of NASCAR.
Despite ‘dumbing down’ the TV show for the silver screen the producers did do some interesting things. They called attention to the political correctness of having a Confederate flag painted on the roof of the General Lee. They also took the necessary step of expanding the story by taking Bo & Luke out of Hazzard and into Atlanta. Making the cousins fishes out of water opened up the comedy and gave the film some fresh air. They also went out on a limb and got Laurence Fishburne involved in the movies’ funniest joke. His all too brief vocal cameo steals the film.
Casting The Dukes of Hazzard was also a perilous and daring adventure. The films two stars, Johnny Knoxville and Sean William Scott are known for being funny in films but not necessarily carrying lead roles in films. Sadly their talent mostly wasted as they oogle, awgle, giggle and carouse their way from car chase to car chase for ninety minutes. Despite having their comedic moments Scott and Knoxville appear completely miscast. Despite some genuinely funny buffoonery both actors fail to move beyond the one dimensional.
As for Jessica Simpson, her big screen debut doesn’t do anything more than anticipated. Daisy Duke is expected to carry the sex appeal and Simpson does that to the delight of pubescent boys and lecherous old men everywhere. Just like the TV show, Daisy is brassy and sexy and somehow manages to bail out her cousins with her womanly wiles. Simpson’s bad accent hurts the film, begging the question, why does a native Southerner like Simpson need to use a seriously over the top accent? Despite her acting shortcomings, starring in The Dukes of Hazzard was probably a smart career move for the singer. Her surprising adeptness for comedy will work well for her down the road if she chooses better scripted film vehicles.
Willie Nelson is perfectly suited to play Uncle Jesse. His Uncle Jesse is irascible, and firm, yet charming and easygoing enough to be likeable. It is obvious that Nelson really digs the character. His acting is natural and his timing is perfect. He obviously is having fun poking fun at this normally no nonsense guy who is willing to do whatever is necessary to keep his family together.
Burt Reynolds performance as Boss Hogg is nothing spectacular. It’s just another day at the office for Reynolds and he makes sure that we know it. His take on Boss Hogg carefully parallels Jackie Gleason’s Buford T. Justice role in Smokey and the Bandit. But perhaps Reynolds biggest flaw is that he plays the role so light that there is very little feeling and hardly any menace. Sadly, Reynolds onscreen time is basically an uninspired cameo drawn out for over an hour.
In general, The Dukes of Hazzard is not a terribly bad movie. It gives audiences exactly what they expect and has a few good laughs. But that still doesn’t excuse it from being sophomoric, adolescent and dumb.
It is a film that plays to the niche crowd of gearheads, rednecks, bumpkins, hormone-raged teenagers and dads eager to Jessica Simpson. Nonetheless, it will do well at the box office because Redneck America loves mindless escapism, cars, girls and thrillbilly kicks. Anyone looking for insignificant things like plot, characters or acting will be disappointed. In this summer of caped heroes, alien invasions and sophisticated dramas The Dukes of Hazzard delivers a feel good film for the NRA/NASCAR set.