Director Jay Chandrasekhar is best known as a member of the Broken Lizard comedy troupe. They're the dubiously talented hodgepodge responsible for such sacks of crap as Club Dread and Super Troopers. Super Troopers has gained something of a cult following since its quiet release in 2001, based almost solely on its hilarious five minute intro. The rest of the film is a boorish tail chaser. Chandrasekhar re-visits those five minutes of comic gold in The Dukes of Hazzard, his first directorial outing away from his Broken Lizard brethren. Actually he's not far away, since he packs Dukes with as many Lizard cast cameos and trademark cheap, crass, dick and shit jokes as he can muster. What happened to the hillbilly family show I remember?
With a script credited to John O'Brien (though Chandrasekhar's fingerprints are blatantly all over it), The Dukes of Hazzard avoids actually parodying the popular Eighties series on which it's based, though the focus here is primarily on comedy. That's not entirely out of keeping with the show really; after all they did have exploding arrows. But in the television show most of the humor came naturally from the predicaments the Duke boys ended up in, or better still from the comedically talented James Best as Rosco. Here it all comes from contrived double entendre and scatological humor, and unlike the family friendly TV series this isn't one you'll want to take the kids to.
I don't mean to sound like I'm setting the old show up on a pedestal as some sort of gold standard of episodic entertainment. "The Dukes of Hazzard" was a dumb show, albeit one that held a lot of fun. Translating something so gleefully and unapologetically stupid into an entertaining film ought to be pretty easy for Hollywood. Well the movie is stupid, and yes, entertaining. But not as entertaining as it could be.
Part of the problem is the cast, which lacks a decent actor anywhere among them. Yes, I'm including Burt Reynolds. Burt gave up any acting credibility he had after Strip Tease, and his recent appearance in The Longest Yard hasn't done much to earn it back. Seann William Scott and Johnny Knoxville star as Bo and Luke Duke respectively, but they're not so much good old boys as they are jackasses in a really fast orange car. In case you're not up to speed on the show, Bo and Luke are cousins living in the rural community of Hazzard County. They live with their Uncle Jesse (Willie Nelson) and ridiculously hot cousin Daisy (Jessica Simpson), spending their days doing all the great things you might expect hillbillies to do. You know, running speed traps, making illegal moonshine, getting in bar fights, and oh yeah, blowing shit up with dynamite arrows. Rednecks without guns? Go figure.
For the film they've also been turned into horny womanizers, except for Bo who prefers making love (literally) to automobiles. But they've little time for threesomes, their Hazzard County home is in trouble. The villainous county commissioner Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds) is planning to turn the place into a strip mine, and it's up to the Dukes to stop him. Meanwhile, there's a side plot involving an arrogant professional racer which gets abandoned as soon as the story no longer has time for him. To help them save the day, the Dukes have two assets: a muscle car named "The General Lee" and Daisy Duke's pink bikini. Though he screws up almost everything else, Chandrasekhar does both of these things justice.
Filming Jessica Simpson's ass is easy, but the car was always the real selling point of the show and it's no different here. The bright orange Dodge Charger has never looked better, and the film does a fantastic job of making it seem even more monstrously powerful than hardcore Dukes fans will remember. The first half of the film lags, as Dukes takes its sweet time setting things up for all the big chases. The script meanders around with tasteless jokes and horrible writing, forcing us to stumble on the over-the-top accent of Jessica Simpson and the stunt casting of Willie Nelson. It's that first half where the movie's flaws are most glaring, probably because there's a lot of talking. Eventually things settle down, everyone shuts up, and the car starts jumping.
The chase scenes are a lot of fun. What's more, they really capture the spirit of the show in a way none of Chandrasekhar's cheap, re-treaded gags even try to do. The car is a beast, and though these may not necessarily rate as the best chase scenes ever captured on screen, they're still pretty good. Dukes also does a decent job explaining the rebel flag on top of the car, choosing to address it in today's modern politically correct view rather than simply ignoring it.
There's a lot to hate about this take on what, like it or not, a lot of people regard as a classic television show. Rosco (arguably the real star of the original) is relegated to a sneering, Snidely Whiplash like figure. Jessica Simpson's eyes bug out inexplicably whenever she's concentrating hard on acting. Uncle Jesse is a stoner, and Cooter is too. The cast and the script are total losers, but whatever mistakes Chandrasekhar made on the film, he has a good eye for entertaining, high speed car on car action. The vehicle is the real star of this movie, and Dukes of Hazzard at least does the "General" right.