A film review by Craig J. Koban



2005, PG-13, 105 mins.

Bo Duke: Seann William Scott / Luke Duke: Johnny Knoxville / Daisy Duke: Jessica Simpson / Boss Hogg: Burt Reynolds / Pauline: Lynda Carter / Uncle Jesse: Willie Nelson / Sheriff Coltrane: M.C. Gainey / Gov. Jim Applewhite: Joe Don Baker

Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar /  Written by John O'Brien

I remember a kinder, gentler, and obviously much more naïve time of my life where I constantly plagued myself with simple and modest concerns.  For the most part, before puberty kicked into overdrive and my thoughts preoccupied other more pressing and sensitive matters, the only terrible dilemma that I suffered through on any given weekday night was whether to watch THE DUKES OF HAZZARD or KNIGHT RIDER on TV.  As my vague memory would have it, it was a tricky and morally convoluted decision to make, but there was just something that always appealed to me about those pesky Duke boys.  Aw heck, their backwoods shenanigans always appealed to the child in me and for that, I loved the show.  I was eight then. 

I can claim that I have seen every single episode of the original TV series.  I guess, as a 30-year-old self-aware adult, that is a boast that carries a certain level of dubious distinction.  What did this show offer to me that forced me to sit in the confines of my living room every week and rob me of precious time outside to play with other children?  I dunno.  Was it the sight of Daisy Duke in her low cut shorts?  Nope.  I was too young to find that sort of thing alluring, but I sure did like that 1969 Dodge Charger that those Georgia boys drove around in and recklessly eluded the law at all times. 

Boy, did I love that car.  It was a fiery, orange-red with the now infamous 01 painted on the side doors, which were welded shut and caused thousands of children like myself, I am assuming, to jump into their parents car through the window just like Bo and Luke Duke.  Hell, as a kid I even liked that cool emblem on the top of the car and always thought it was such a cool logo.  Then, of course, as I got older and got my B.A. in US history, I learned what the Confederate Flag symbolized and I wizened up a tad. 

At the age of eight, the Duke boys of Hazzard were heroes, albeit law breaking and rebellious, of mine that I worshiped.  The show was fun and entertaining and I loved it.  As a thirty year old looking back at some of those shows in rerun form, THE DUKES OF HAZAARD just may be one of the most politically incorrect TV shows for a young child to witness.  After all, it was about red-necked hillbillies that spat on and disrespected the law, made and sold moonshine, and drove a car that bore a flag that has come to embody hate and bigotry. 

Okay, mini-history lessen here, dear readers.  The Confederate battle flag, called the “Southern Cross” or the cross of St. Andrew, has been seen by many as a proud emblem of Southern heritage.  Unfortunately, it is also condemned as a shameful reminder of black slavery in America and segregation.  There is no doubting that the flag is a valid symbol of the Confederate States of America, which segregated from the rest of the US and then spawned the US Civil War.  Yes, it was flag of those states.  The issue with it now is that it’s a hateful and reprehensible reminder of one society’s support of oppressing black people and upholding the institution of slavery.  The Ku Klux Klan appropriated the flag as their symbol during the reconstruction period after the Civil War and other racist hate groups continue to do so in the present day.  It is believed that over 500 extremist groups in the US use the flag as their symbol today. 

Gosh!  In retrospect, how could I have revered the Duke boys as heroes when they drove around in a car that carried a symbol that represents such deep and penetrating hate and bigotry?  Okay the Duke boys were sort of a silly, innocuous, and innocent breed of country bumpkin, but c’mon, their extreme naivety and youthful charm and vigour does not excuse the fact that they paraded around in the “hate mobile” while disrespecting the law.  Am I nuts, or would a super hero with a Confederate flag for his symbol on his/her chest also not be appropriate?  Revisionist ideology aside, THE DUKES OF HAZZARD can now been seen in a much different prerogative. 

All right…what’s going on here?  I’m I thinking far too analytically about an asinine little TV show that populated the TV waves 25 years ago and thrilled many children?  Most likely.  Yet, this begs the rather pointed question: why in the world would anyone want to make a big-budget film adaptation of this TV show?  If anything, this new DUKES OF HAZZARD, directed by Broken Lizard’s leader Jay Chandrasekhar, further reveals that Hollywood studios are never too low to allow themselves to sink to levels so intellectually bankrupt for ideas for possible hit films. 

This DUKES film is all concept and very little else,  Yeah, it's got the look down pat, and that ’69 Dodge charger still looks so damn cool in my eyes, but there is nothing buried underneath.  This is a dreadful waste of time and a laboriously dull comedy void of genuine and consistent laughs.  Maybe more than anything, this film update can’t ever decide if it’s mocking and making fun of the TV show, saluting it, or both.  This film is clueless and celebrates complete and utter pointlessness with such mind-numbing conviction. 

There are a few things I really loved about this film.  First, that ’69 Dodge Charger.  Even with that nasty little symbol on the top of its hood, seeing it on the big screen still makes it hard not to be taken back to another time of my life where my favourite toy car was the General Lee (despite its obvious negative socio-political overtones its hood logo now has).  Second, the film has Burt Reynolds’s in the Boss Hogg role made somewhat immortal by Sorrell Brook.  Reynolds’s has fun with his role and does what he can with it.  And lastly there is Jessica Simpson as Daisy Duke, the character also made famous by Catherine Bach.  Every time the General Lee and Daisy appeared my eyes were glued to the screen, especially at the latter site.  Okay, Daisy is not a suped up V8 muscle car with a Hemi-engine that purrs loudly and screams down the street…but I will never complain about ogling at her assets off and on for 90 minutes.  For what it’s worth, THE DUKES OF HAZZARD is a glorious piece of eye candy. 

The film, despite Daisy’s and the General Lee’s noteworthy attributes, is a horrendous mess.  Now, I have been generally lukewarm to the idea of TV shows being remade into films.  Some, like 2004’s STARSKY AND HUTCH, knew that the best way to remake a classic TV show from the past was to take it in a different direction all together.  In their case, they remade a once gritty and action packed police show from the 70’s into an all-out comedy that had indisputable laughs.  STARSKY AND HUTCH had no pretensions of what it wanted to be.  DUKES, by comparison, tries to be both completely slavish to its source material and fresh at the same time, but the only things that are really fresh are the actors in the roles, the production budget, the scope and scale of the car chases, and its running time.  But make no mistake about it - this new film is as backwards as the old TV show. 

I think it was Francois Truffaut that once said that the best way to criticize a film is to make another one.  Fine.  If I were to make a DUKES film, why not make it a somewhat subversive satire set in our modern, insanely political correct times?  For example, there is one scene in the film that is quite funny and it involves Bo (Seann William Scott) and Luke (Johnny Knoxville) driving into the big city while they are stuck on an expressway.  All other big city drivers who drive by scold and condemn them for their insensitive vehicle emblem.  The Duke boys, who are in a perpetual “aw, shucks” state, have no clue why the symbol is offensive…really.   

That scene worked, but the film needed more scenes like that.  Watching this whole witless enterprise I grew dizzy just thinking about the type of nail-biting parody this film could have been – a story about immature simpletons that get taken away from the cozy lifestyles of bootlegging and living in the country and instead have to face an urban lifestyle that is both intellectually and morally ahead of them.  The DUKES TV show is woefully outdated by today’s standards, so why not contemporize the show with some spirited and satiric laughs that scoff at and ridicule the show’s undemanding simple-mindedness?  Beats me why they didn’t. 

The plot is basically a stale and overtly routine one that actually inspired boredom when Daisy was not on screen in a bikini.  The Duke boys and Daisy secretly make moonshine for their Uncle Jesse (played by Willie Nelson, who garners a few laughs) and constantly try to escape apprehension from “the meanest man in Hazzard County", Boss Hogg (Reynolds).  The plot meanders from one meaningless episode to the next until, through a series of incidents I almost forgot about, Hogg hatches a plan to kidnap Uncle Jesse and covert the entire county of Hazzard to a lucrative and expensive strip mine, which would ultimately cause the Dukes to lose their farm and “family business”.  Okay, I am not for a town of good-natured people losing their lives and homes, but is it really a bad thing that the Dukes will no longer be able to make moonshine and contribute to the alcoholism of hundreds of townsfolk?  Well, from there the story even manages to end up with a climatic NASCAR race with the General Lee and if you can’t figure out what happens in the end then, sorry to say this so bluntly, you’re a fool. 

This film is trying to be a comedy, but its approach to its laughs are so childish and moronic that only a kid could appreciate them.  In the packed theatre I attended there was not one laugh to be heard from the audience for the first 40 minutes, which is never a good sign.  Yes, there were some collective male gasps when Daisy strips down or bends over to reveal her ample, immensely impressive and visually satisfying cleavage, but alas laughs are null and void.  By the time the film reaches its halfway point I did laugh loud a couple of times.  I liked a character played by Broken Lizard member Kevin Hefferman, who is a safe cracker who loves plastic explosives and feels the need to wear and armadillo shell on his head so that the CIA or FBI can’t read his mind.  A few more Lizard alumni make special cameo appearances that inspire some giggles. 

Maybe the biggest problem with this film is that it really is a comic letdown.  Jay Chandrasekhar and the other members of Broken Lizard made one of the funniest films of the last five years in SUPER TROOPERS.  They displayed, in that film, their unique and clear-cut comic talents.  Unfortunately, their follow-up film was the dreadful CLUB DREAD, a film also directed by Chandrasekhar that I proudly put on my list of the worst films of 2004.  Now he has further tainted his resume with DUKES.  Watching SUPER TROOPERS I just know that Chandrasekhar is smarter and better than the material he is working with in DUKES, which allows me to speculate as to why he agreed to make the film in the first place. 

THE DUKES OF HAZZARD is not an offensively bad film as it is a remarkably tedious, lifeless, uninspired, and inevitably redundant film.  The film is one long series of cobbled together rowdy antics that is held together by an equally flimsy and boring story.  Yes, director Chandrasekhar pays a fanatical amount of respect to the iconography of the classic TV show, but he seems so hypnotized by them that he forgot to make a funny and involving film around them.  DUKES is a cheap form of nostalgia that panders down to its audience and puts in overtime to make us all feel as stupid as possible. 

Trust me, this film about those good ol’ boys is just dreadful ‘n dumb.

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