Archive for Friday, August 5, 2005

Dukes’ hazardous to one’s mental health

August 5, 2005

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Now "Bewitched" has some competition.

Those who thought that cinematic train wreck represented the summer's worst adaptation of a "classic" TV show need only see "The Dukes of Hazzard." Stupidity is exchanged like hard currency in this sub-"Smokey and the Bandit" romp around backwater Georgia.

No wonder the South lost the war.

People who grew up watching the CBS program (1979-'85) will easily recognize the show. It hasn't exactly undergone a radical revision. It still features the same ratio of car chasing, bar fighting, arrow shooting and lowbrowing as its predecessor.

It still centers on Bo and Luke Duke (Seann William Scott and Johnny Knoxville), a pair of cousins who live with their moonshining uncle (Willie Nelson) and curvaceous other cousin (Jessica Simpson).

They still spend their days taunting and running afoul of politician Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds) and his attack-dog sheriff (M.C. Gainey) in rural Hazzard County (via locations filmed in Louisiana).

From left, Jessica Simpson, Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott in "The Dukes of Hazzard."

From left, Jessica Simpson, Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott in "The Dukes of Hazzard."

What's different about the movie - which ultimately plays like an expanded episode of the show - is its tone.

The irreverent, everything's-a-big-joke quality remains, but the context has changed. The first Dukes proudly flaunted their Southern heritage, complete with their Confederate battle flag-adorned vehicle featuring a horn that blared "Dixie." The original show existed in a self-contained TV universe devoid of blacks - and thus devoid of racism or controversy.

But a lot has shifted since then. The filmmakers know this and uncomfortably try to insert reality into the mix ... with disastrous results.

While driving around Atlanta, for instance, Bo and Luke become surrounded by a group of young blacks who are loudly grooving to hip-hop. The men take offense to the aforementioned Confederate symbol (among other things) and threaten them until a police car pulls up to save the day. When the officers step out, they are also black. Cut to the next scene with the Dukes sitting in jail.

It's hard to know where to begin discussing how many ways this awkward sequence fails.

The film is no more progressive in its depiction of women. When Catherine Bach wore her infamous "Daisy Dukes" shorts in the original series, it was suggestive but harmless. Vacuous singer Simpson is given the same wardrobe, yet her sole function is to remove it in front of men in order to distract them.

"You know what's gonna happen," she says of her cousins. "They're gonna get caught and get thrown in jail. Then I'm gonna have to shake my (butt) at somebody to get them out."

This scenario plays out multiple times in "Dukes." Her character has been turned into a piece of meat whose sole function is to mesmerize men with her goodies.

When a movie's misogyny is battling its racism for screen time, you know the project is in trouble.

Movie
The Dukes of Hazzard * 1/2

Stupidity is exchanged like hard currency in this sub-"Smokey and the Bandit" romp around backwater Georgia, the summer's worst adaptation of a "classic" TV show. The film features the same ratio of car chasing, bar fighting, arrow shooting and lowbrowing as before, but with more racism and sexism added for laughs.

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Director Jay Chandrasekhar ("Club Dread") and writer John O'Brien (the recent "Starsky & Hutch" remake) occasionally try to bring a little quirkiness to the picture. They portray Bo as someone so incapable of dealing with females that he's found a pseudo-sexual relationship with his car. (As the old Queen song says, "He's got a feel for his automobile.")

When they try to add much hipness beyond this, the picture veers into the realm of the nonsensical.

At one point, Bo tells Luke that another character "pulled a Keyser Soze." The reference comes exclusively from the movie "The Usual Suspects." Bo is portrayed as a guy who listens to a Books on Tape version of "The Al Unser Jr. Story" as his driving music, and yet he's making an indie film reference.

There's no indication that Bo would ever see a movie that starred somebody besides Bruce Willis or Steven Seagal. There's no guarantee the Dukes even own a TV set.

Waylon Jennings described the Duke cousins in the show's original theme song as: "Just the good ol' boys / Never meanin' no harm."

"The Dukes of Hazzard" may mean no harm, but the film is still offensive in all kinds of ways.

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