The Dukes of Hazzard was a genially harmless TV series. Brainless, too, but harmless. The storytelling rarely surpassed the level of one of those stunt shows at Universal Studios. Sorrell Booke and James Best were afflicted with “Werner Klemperer syndrome,” suffered by all veteran character actors playing buffoons far below their respective talents. For its whole run, the show got by on lightweight humor, car chases and Catherine Bach in some very, very short shorts. How short? How about “The Guys Down in Standards-&-Practices Are Drinking Maalox by the Gallon” short?
Why do I dwell on those shorts? They represent about the only virtue that carries over from the series to this movie.
Now, no one is ever going to mention Catherine Bach in the same breath as Helen Hayes, Jessica Tandy or Judi Dench, but as Daisy Duke, Ms. Bach came a lot closer to being in their league than Jessica Simpson comes to being in Catherine Bach’s league. I’m usually very forgiving of actors, but the word “actor” implies a certain set of skills and innate talents that Ms. Simpson completely lacks.
The rest of the cast have done better work in better films, but that’s like saying other ships have had better maiden voyages than Titanic. I prefer to think that someone slipped Burt Reynolds a mickey and shanghaied him from a better movie and that Willie Nelson was still working off that IRS debt. Either scenario is more palatable than the idea that they agreed to be in this movie of their own free will. Reynolds couldn’t appear more stiff and self-conscious if he tried. Whatever Nelson brought to his role is wasted telling a series of jokes that were old and not that funny when the original series aired.
As far as the story goes, I’ve had more interesting things clog up my toilet. It was something about Boss Hogg (Reynolds) wanting to stripmine Uncle Jesse’s (Nelson) farm. Bad movies are always about saving the farm, the church or the orphanage. This hackneyed plot device is taught on the first day of Inept Scriptwriting 101.
In order to save the farm, the Duke boys (the completely interchangable Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott) have to drive around in their 1969 Dodge Charger and jump over a lot of things. There might have been some kind of race involved as well as a trip to a sorority house. I’m not sure exactly what happened because my brain kept trying to slip out of gear while I watched the movie. Self-preservation, I think that’s called. If someone had pitched this story to me, with or without the name Dukes of Hazzard attached, I would have phoned the cops to say that a meth-head had broken into my office.
The characters of Bo and Luke Duke on TV, as played by John Schneider and Tom Wopat, weren’t exactly long on book learnin’ but neither were they the dim-bulb Darwinian rejects played by Knoxville and Scott. Unlike the series, which had a great deal of affection for its unsophisticated but likeable characters, this film drips with Left Coast contempt for the “flyover states.” I doubt anyone involved had been anywhere near the south, at least not voluntarily.
And no matter how close her wardrobe came to exposing Catherine Bach’s nether regions, the TV show was mostly clean, family-friendly fun. The crude frat-house level of humor in this movie is completely out of synch with the spirit of its inspiration. It’s almost enough to make one nostalgic for the Coy and Vance era of the original series. Relax, I said “almost.”