It would be so much easier just to hate The Dukes of Hazzard. It would be so much easier to use its existence as an excuse for a screed against the willingness of the American public to have its low culture nostalgia sold back to it like a dog lapping up its own upchuck and paying for the privilege. It would be so much easier to play critic-as-Boss Hogg and furiously fume, “Them Duke boys!
The Dukes of Hazzard, as it turns out, isn’t really worth a good hate. It is, however, a somewhat confounding concoction. Not exactly a straightforward duplication, not exactly a winking deconstruction and not exactly a louder-faster-more big-screen expansion, it’s all of those things and more, delivered with a giddy refusal to ignore any opportunity for a giggle or a smirk.
On the surface level, enough familiar touchstones are in place. Down in Hazzard County, Ga., cousins Bo (Seann William Scott) and Luke (Johnny Knoxville) still run moonshine for their Uncle Jesse (Willie Nelson) in an orange Dodge Charger named the General Lee. Cousin Daisy (Jessica Simpson) still stimulates the salivary glands in her denim cutoffs-cum-bikini briefs. They’re all still perpetually out to confound the notorious plans of Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds) and his stooge Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane (M. C. Gainey)'this time involving something about buying up land for coal mining. And someone still gets to utter the legendary insult, “Dipstick.
Mostly, however, there are car chases. If you grew up spending an hour of your Friday nights watching the original Dukes, you may recall that every plot was a thin excuse to get Bo and Luke into the General Lee for some yee-haw-ing and tearing madly through the countryside, usually with some vehicle bearing a flashing light in pursuit. And in this version there are plenty of wild chases, through city streets and on highways, over dirt roads and through fields. We’re not talking Bullitt or The French Connection here, but it’s got that energetic disregard for human or property damage that certainly honors its predecessor'and the good sense to freeze-frame on the General Lee while it’s soaring improbably through the air thanks to a conveniently situated ramp.
But on other levels it seems utterly, gleefully unconcerned with giving you exactly what the show gave you, or what other TV-series adaptations tend to give you. A blonde Daisy? Scandalous. A taller-than-he-is-wide Boss Hogg? Treasonous. A meaner-than-he-is-stupid Roscoe? Blasphemous. Not a single cameo appearance by an original cast member, even Coy or Vance? Inconceivable. Throw in a few new peripheral characters'apparently created to give work to the Broken Lizard cohorts of director Jay Chandrasekhar (Super Troopers)'and the idea that this is a Dukes of Hazzard movie seems like just another cynical attempt to cash in on a familiar title.
And then it’ll pivot again for some meta-commentary. The relationship between Bo and the General Lee becomes an almost sexual affair. The legendary “Dixie” blast of the car horn inspires eye-rolling, and the rebel flag on the roof earns some contemporary scorn from big-city passers-by. Even the tendency of Deputy Enos (Michael Weston) to give up information when Daisy flashes her curves becomes a plot point. Here you’ve got a movie that enjoys being The Dukes of Hazzard, enjoys not being The Dukes of Hazzard, and enjoys making fun of The Dukes of Hazzard.
It’s a mad, sloppy conglomeration, but Chandrasekhar does know how to work a gag. He doesn’t really care where the gags come from if they’re going to yank a smile'a non-sequitur reference to Keyser Soze, a nod to his own character in Super Troopers, broad slapstick barroom brawls, conspiracy buffs wearing armadillo hats to keep out the radio waves, a swipe at Georgia residents’ knee-jerk approval of the phrase, “Go Dawgs!” Even the outtakes over the end credits offer more goofy entertainment value than most.
In the end, it’s not entirely clear what this Dukes of Hazzard is other than an amiable time-waster, something that surprises mostly in its refusal to completely suck. It ain’t art, but it’s not too proud to acknowledge that its main job is to satisfy an audience by any means necessary. And in that way more than any other, it might do its namesake proud.
Scott Renshaw reviews new movies on Fox 13’s Good Day Utah in the 7 a.m. hour.