Hippo Manchester
August 11, 2005

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The Dukes of Hazzard (PG-13)
By Amy Diaz

Nothing says back-country fun like shooting containers of gasoline with lit arrows — a scene that is perhaps one of the best in The Dukes of Hazzard, the remake of yet another late 1970s television show.

Blowin’ stuff up and ridin’ around in the General Lee (the orange Dodge Charger outfitted with both the Confederate flag and a horn that plays Dixie) are pretty much the favorite activities of the Dukes and probably the ones that are the most enjoyable for the audience. Blowin’ stuff up is a time honored tradition, not just among Southerners but among all peoples of our great nation. Why, somewhere in a suburb not far from you this very minute, wherever two or more children over 5 years old are gathered, a small group of kids is probably putting their collective brain power to the puzzle of how to blow something up (golf balls, wagons, trash cans, toys of younger children). They will be innovative and determined with this project in ways you did not think were possible for people who still can’t tie their own shoes. They will use items they find around the house in ways that would impress MacGyver. In fact, perhaps you should put this review down for a minute and go figure out where the kids in your house are and why it suddenly got so quiet.

If your children are anything like Bo (Sean William Scott) and Luke (Johnny Knoxville) Duke, perhaps they are being chased by a dozen police cruisers while their Uncle Jesse (Willie Nelson), throws lit jars of moonshine at their pursuers. Yee-haw! Nothing explodes with as much panache as a jelly jar full of clear hooch.

How did our good ole boys get to the point of being chased by cruisers? The plot is thinner and more threadbare than the ass-hugging shorts worn by Daisy Duke (Jessica Simpson), cousin to Bo and sister to Luke. (As Daisy wisely observes early in the movie, the boys get themselves into trouble and then she shakes her fanny at some dimwit to get them out.) As usual, the trouble of this story involves the KFC Colonel-ish Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds) and one of his schemes. This particular scheme involves stealing Uncle Jesse’s farm, along with several other farms in Hazzard, and strip mining the land. To help ease this plan past an unsuspecting public, Hogg asks for the help of Billy Prickett (James Roday), a much-beloved local race car driver. Because, naturally, at exactly the same time as the hearing on the strip mining project, the whole town will be down at the track watching the annual race rally.

Part of me likes the inherent dopiness of all this. Of a town where “everybody” will be in one place and can be rushed over to another place. Of a road rally full of souped up cars that can be beat by a 1969 Charger. Of guys named Enos (Michael Weston), Cooter (David Koechner) and Sheev (Kevin Heffernan) who will blow stuff up for little or no reason, run around in armadillo helmets and too-short-shorts and be willing to defy local law enforcement but still turn to blubbering goo from the sight of Daisy and her Daisy Dukes. These things are part of a television-style silliness that the movie neither discards nor attempts to explain through irony. Like Johnny Knoxville’s early career as a stunt junkie on Jackass and like Scott’s performance in American Pie, these aspects of The Dukes of Hazzard universe are stupid fun that remain unchanged from the show’s lightweight original years.

Sadly, however, there is too little of this fire-cracker-in-a-Twinkie highjinks to make the movie work. Long sections of the movie are sleep-inducingly boring — such as the endless car chases that, pre-explosion and post-funny-Duke-escape, feel like filler or the scenes where Simpson is required by the script to act. Her job, clearly, is to look hot, and as Daisy Duke the alien-life-form-Barbie-doll that is Jessica Simpson is successful at this. But then the movie tries to give her lines and jokes and, while not remotely as painful as Newlyweds, the result isn’t exactly enjoyable. And for as boring as the car-chase scenes frequently are, the scenes where the boys leave the car to caper about an Atlanta college or a backwoods bar are even more boring.

This leaves it to Reynolds’ Boss Hogg and Nelson’s Uncle Jesse to save the movie — a plan that might have worked too if it wasn’t for those meddling Dukes and their overabundant screen time. As it was, Reynolds floated through the movie like the ghost of Smokey and the Bandit, haunting only a few scenes and Nelson just hung around waiting for the scene where he could get high and sing the television show’s theme song. Yee-haw?