August brings with it the long-awaited theatrical release of The Dukes of Hazzard, based on the 1970s TV show about two good ol’ boys who drive around all day in an orange-colored extension of their penises with absolutely nothing to do, presumably because all the good, beatable women in Georgia are taken. The movie, directed by Jay Chandrasekhar (he of the dreadful Club Dread and the mostly painful Super Troopers), is basically everything you would expect from a film whose leads are best known as Stifler and The Jackass — it’s loud, obnoxious, full of itself, and about as smart as a Jessica Simpson discourse on canned seafood.
But then again, there’s something to be said for meeting one’s expectations; after all, no one tuned in to the original television show expecting Brechtian dialogue, complex Sorkin-level plotlines, or sophisticated character development. If you were lucky, a brilliantly comprehensive episode of “The Dukes of Hazzard” would feature a Duke boy sliding over the General Lee (preferably shirtless for the middle-aged housewives and gay men watching), a canyon jump accompanied by the melody of “Dixie” (for the xenophobic demographic), and the slow pan of the camera up the legs of Daisy, providing an ever-so-brief glimpse at the nether-cracks of authentic white-trash trim. Using the original as a measuring stick, the big-screen feature of The Dukes of Hazzard meets, and even exceeds all of your hopes, without bothering to pander to moviegoers with more than three brain cells.
The Dukes of Hazzard follows hillbilly cousins Bo (Sean William Scott) and Luke Duke (Johnny Knoxville) as they try — once again — to save the Duke farm from destruction at the hands of Boss Hog (Burt Reynolds) and his turn-a-quick-buck strip-mining ambitions. Probably the best thing that can be said for Scott and Knoxville’s turn as the Duke boys is their ability to make you appreciate the effortless whimsy of the original Dukes, John Schneider and Tom Wopat. Scott’s version of Bo is no more than a glorified, wide-eyed, badly accented, Southern version of his character in American Pie, though Knoxville is adeptly cast in a film that makes the most of aggressive kicks in the junk. Jessica Simpson — as Daisy Duke — has all the insipid acting ability of … who gives a shit! I’m sure all most of you care about is her ass; while The Dukes of Hazzard is no damn good, for $10, I suppose it is cheaper and more discrete than a Vegas lap dance.
The script, written by John O’Brien, who brought you the needlessly bad Starsky & Hutch screenplay, is chock-full of Southern cliches with absolutely none of the Southern charm of the original; the writing primarily consists of car chases and monosyllabic dialogue (branching out occasionally for the two-syllable Yee Haws!). Maybe the best thing that can be said for it is that, at the very least, the people most likely to be insulted (Southern redneck racists) aren’t smart enough to take offense. I will say this, however: As terrible as The Dukes of Hazzard turned out to be — and it is godawful — there were still a few seconds in the movie, when the General Lee is hovering 20 feet above the ground and some shitty AC/DC song is blaring, that I felt like a giddy seven-year-old again.
Off-screen, perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of the Duke movie is the rant that two-term Congressman Ben Jones — known as the “Dukes” character “Cooter” to all you lonely people out there — made on his very own website about how true fans shouldn’t see the new movie. What does he cite for his reasons? Was it the racial stereotyping, the black-face scene, or the glorification of an antiquated racist flag? Hell no. A script that’s not even smart enough to capitalize on all the easy, built in wink-nod-nod-nod-wink meta-irony opportunities? Nope. How about the exaltation of bootlegging rednecks with an unhealthy sexual obsession with their car? Uh uh. The real reason: Cooter doesn’t like the The Dukes of Hazzard because the “blatant sexual situations … mock the good clean family values of” the original series.
Now, I’ll grant that the movie is bad, Coot, but not because it’s too sexually blunt. After all, what was the original show but a chance for prepubescent boys to ogle at Daisy Duke for an hour? Her outfits left so little to the imagination that her cutoffs, formerly called “whore’s shorts” or “working girl’s britches,” were rechristened “Daisy Dukes” in our pop-culture lexicon; indeed, her legs launched boys across Arkansas into bow-legged, Skoal-chewing puberty during Reagan’s first term. Casting Jessica Simpson in the role was the only truly inspired decision the producers of 2005’s version made: She is, after all, the vapid blonde of choice for our consumer-oriented, reality-show inspired generation (and that ass … ).
But, Cooter, you’re off-base when you blame “Hollywood” (and I’m using quotes around it just like you did, moron) for degrading what, in your Coors Light-addled mind, was a wholesome and nonsexual show. It’s not like keeping single-entendres out of the movie would have made it better; after all, we are talking about The Dukes of Hazzard here. Movies based on old TV shows are tricky things to make anyway; only The Fugitive comes to mind as an example of a competent and enjoyable update. But, Coot ol’ buddy, didn’t you see the remakes of Bewitched or Starsky & Hutch? Bad originals make for bad movies. It’s that simple.
The Cootman tips his hand on his website: “After all, our huge success for so many years is the reason they are making the film, and the film, after all, is about us.” Wrong again, jackass. The movie isn’t about you, because you’re an actor — and a washed-up one at that. It isn’t even about the original show. It’s about turning a buck with a recognizable brand name. After all, you don’t see Antonio Fargas getting upset, do you? Face it, Cooter, this is not just “Hollywood,” this is the way the world works; maybe if you knew how to properly exploit our capitalistic system, you’d still have a job in the nation’s capital. It’s hard to find fault with the producers of The Dukes of Hazzard for trying to make the most of a mindless, irrelevant television show by creating a mindless, irrelevant film — hell, if it allows Willie to continue paying his taxes, I can’t complain about the loss of two hours of my life. The Dukes of Hazzard may not be pretty, Congressman, but if you want to satisfy society’s lowest-common denominator, every once in a while you just gotta whip out your dick and put it in the butter. But, then again, Coot, what does it say about overcompensation when you’re driving around in a goddamn tow truck; I doubt there’d be much of a dent in your Land o’ Lakes, huh?
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.
Film | May 13, 2006 | Comments ()