Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Dukes of Hazzard

(This review runs in Vue Weekly)

Man, talk about your critical drubbings. Who pissed in the cornflakes of criticism, that everyone’s gotta hate on The Dukes of Hazzard like this? “There is no wrong time to flush this turd” (Rolling Stone); “A lame-brained, outdated wheeze” (Roger Ebert), etc. Doesn’t anybody like to have fun anymore? Even poor old Ben Jones, TV's original Cooter, has returned to momentary fame by damning the remake’s shameful straying from the show’s “family values”. Cooter, my man! It was a show about outlaw booze-running smuggler cousins blowing up the vehicles of duly appointed peace officers with dynamite arrows while their sexpot cousin corrupted the principles of due process by hypnotizing a learning-disabled deputy with the power of her denimed ass and gingham-restrained tits. Wake the fuck up!

I’m here to report that as a hoser who loves the antics of other hosers and who values nothing in a film more than a sense of joy and fun, I had a damn fine time with the new Dukes. I went in thinking I’d be bored – I went alone, and movies like this are best shared with friends – but I was laughing and grinning the whole way through, from that first classic midjump freeze-frame before the titles to the final shot where Wille Nelson tokes up in the smokehouse with Joe Don Baker. There’s a fine line between clever and stupid, as the man once said, and director Jay Chandrasekhar takes that two-sided aphorism into a third dimension by making one great realization: in the making of a Dukes film, getting too clever is stupid. So when we get jokes born from the cliches and conventions of the show, he’s not taking the piss or rolling his eyes or mocking… he’s having fun with the toolkit of iconic elements provided by an old show beloved by millions.

The engine driving this machine is the chemistry between Bo and Luke Duke, Seann William Scott and Jackass’s Johnny Knoxville. That chemistry isn’t deep, but it’s volatile as the moonshine molotovs Wille tosses; they are two good old boys, thrill junkies, hometown heroes, hair-trigger fistfighters with more guts than brains. “Cousins closer than brothers,” as Texas guitar legend Junior Brown narrates, Luke’s the “sensible one” only in comparison to his near-feral cousin – Scott’s got real danger in his eyes. Yeah, they’re crazy-brave, but it’s not because they’re stupid – it’s because they’re winners. They’re afraid of nothing because they never lose; they don’t even know what it is to lose. The Duke Boys live in an ‘80s action-adventure universe where everything always works out in the end.

There are slack moments, places where you’re going to get impatient for more action, more hootin’ and hollerin’, but they’re tolerable. Worse is any scene featuring Jessica Simpson. If anything comes close to wrecking this movie it’s that vapid, pneumatic, mannish nobody. I’m no Dukes purist – I mean, why would I care? – so the whole “Daisy’s gotta be brunette” thing doesn’t enter into this. It’s not about Daisy needing to have brown hair, it’s about a performer in a film needing to be able to speak and move like something other than a confused fuckdroid prototype whose voice module was programmed by an ESL student in a Houston primary school. Her distract-the-cops-with-ass routine is old the first time, let alone the fourth; I almost felt like cheering when her silicone siren’s song finally failed her.

With great chase photography that lovingly rebuilds the legend of the second-greatest fictional ride of all time (face it, KITT’s “super pursuit mode” is gonna leave any stock iron in a swirl of late-summer Georgia leaves ), and a cast that’s clearly having an infectiously fun time, The Dukes of Hazzard makes for an above-average action comedy that leaves you weanting a sequel or three. Just make sure you run out of the theatre as soon as the outtakes end, because Simpson’s rendition of “These Boots Were Made For Walking” is so bad it can cause irreversible genetic damage.

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