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The Dukes of Hazzard

Director: Jay Chandrasekhar
Cast: Johnny Knoxville, Seann William Scott, Jessica Simpson, Willie Nelson, M.C. Gainey, Burt Reynolds

(Warner Bros.; US theatrical: 5 Aug 2005; 2005)

Samin'

You keep samin’ when you oughta be changin’.
Now what’s right is right, but you ain’t been right yet.
—“These Boots Were Made for Walkin’”


The General Lee rises again. A series of rowdy antics instead of a sustained storyline, The Dukes of Hazzard is all about the car. A 1969 Dodge Charger that goes fast and makes lots of noise, the General Lee carts the Duke cousins Bo (Seann William Scott) and Luke (Johnny Knoxville) through Hazzard County, as they deliver Uncle Jesse’s (Willie Nelson) moonshine and generally make a ruckus. Bo especially loves his car, as it provides not only transportation but a sense of identity and invincibility (it wins races and seems to endure any manner of collision and hard landing).


This rendition of two boys and their distinctive vehicle is, as Ben Jones has said repeatedly, not the same as the TV incarnation. The series’ Cooter has been mouthing off for weeks about the movie’s lowbrow sexual innuendo and pot-smoking jokes, as it degrades the family orientation of the original text. While the objection has been received in many corners as a joke, Jones is actually kind of right about the degradation part, which is not to say the TV series brought great art or even an especially admirable moral message. It only means that the movie is about as low as you can go. Even this summer.


Bo and Duke and the car fill up most of Dukes’ space. They careen down dirt roads, crash through tree stands and fences, fly off overpasses and roar along those few patches of pavement they might find round the valley. (And as the outtakes during closing credits reveal, some of these stunts were hard to come by, with plenty of real wrecks and missed marks en route.) Other folks wander in and out of frame, less to create obstacles or even narrative events than to inspire more zooming and crashing. As the film opens, for instance, Luke is sexing a girl in her bedroom window when her daddy comes home, and he’s soon tossed out that window and leaping into the General Lee, which proceeds to skid and boom out the driveway, dust and gravel churning behind. Daddy and brother hop in the pickup, totin’ shotguns, and Dukes is in gear. That is, it repeats this basic pattern—boys find trouble, boys drive away fast—relentlessly.


The occasional changeup comes in the form of curvaceous cousin Daisy (Jessica Simpson), apparently able to manipulate every idiot male who comes down that pike—that would be, every male in sight—by showing her barely covered rump and cleavage. While she surprises herself during a bar fight by pitching billiard balls at her cousins’ adversaries and clomping some guy in the crotch. This would be the extent of her “empowerment” imagery.


The more common activity is, as she describes it, “shaking her ass” to get Bo and Luke out of trouble. In the scene that keeps showing up in trailers, she’s in a pink bikini, soliciting formation from a dim deputy named Enos (Michael Weston), whose name inspires repeated “anus” jokes and who in this particular scene gives up a name within seconds, along with a smile that suggests he’s come in his pants when Daisy leaned in to hear his answer. “That may be a record,” she purrs, while swaying her bikinied hips toward the camera. Now, surely Jessica deserves a break—god knows she’s suffered, what with all the sniping about the husband and the sister. But this performance suggests the “Boots” video is the extent of her acting capacity.


The three Duke kids, plus Uncle Jesse, are set against self-important, greedy county commissioner Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds), who keeps Sheriff Coltrane (M.C. Gainey) in the pocket of his white-on-white suit. Disturbed that the Dukes warrant so much love in the area—they deliver the hooch that keeps all the residents complacent, after all—Boss Hogg wants to punish them, repeatedly, This time, the plan involves strip-mining the valley, which demands that he grab up adjoining land plots, including the Dukes’ farm. In order to denigrate his designated opponents still further, Boss Hogg arranges to have the General Lee totaled, and brings in famous race car driver Billy Prickett (James Roday) to drive in the Hazzard County Rally (this last scheme might be vaguely invidious, but mostly, it’s just nonsense).


So much for plot. The rest of Jay Chandrasekhar’s movie consists of guest appearances (by his Broken Lizard comedy troupe, Lynda Carter, and Joe Don Baker as the pothead Governor) and assorted hillbilly shenanigans, enacted most often by Sheev (Kevin Heffernan), who states his business early (“I cut bait and blow shit up for a living”), then spends the film walking around in his boxers and an armadillo helmet, then wondering out loud why no one takes him seriously. (He’s also the one providing the exploding arrows, bringing great glee to those audience members with fond members of the TV series.)


The movie does offer one awkward “update” of the CBS series, courtesy of a paint job by Cooter (David Koechner). He delivers the General Lee all shined up and louder than ever, with its infamous confederate flag decal restored to the roof (apparently, the cousins are not so crass as to have this idea themselves). During a brief trip to Atlanta (that is, the Big City), Bo and Luke run into a series of responses to the decal, pro (yay Klu Klux Klan) and con (“Hey redneck! Join the 21st century!”). The most notable response comes from a group of menacing black men in baggy pants, doubly upset when they see the cousins are also wearing an accidental blackface, following an explosion that leaves coal on their faces. (And the black guys don’t even have to endure the previous scene where the cousins pretend to be Japanese.)


Granted, Dukes is all about the stereotypes. The car, the boys, the bar fights, the moonshine, the Boss Hogg. Got that. But they were tired before the TV series. Now, they only make you feel tired too.

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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