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The Dukes of Hazzard (2005)
Brainless but entertaining popcorn-fodder
It is with some degree of trepidation that I sat down to watch this film, remembering as fondly as I do the TV series that enthralled me as a child. It was also, in part, due to the critical savaging "Dukes" has taken in the press. It is with this in mind and the uneasy feeling that a childhood memory was about to be defecated upon that I took my seat, strapped in and held on. What followed was a pleasant surprise.
I had read that the film didn't rekindle the spirit of the original, but with the sight of a slightly dowdy looking General outstripping a police cruiser before taking to the air I was won over. The freeze-frame/Balladeer affectation always so timely in the TV series kicked in offering some commentary on the events unfolding before us. The late Waylon Jennings' unmistakable tones are absent, but Junior Brown proved to be an adequate replacement.
What follows is a tale that could have been lifted straight out of an old episode of the TV show, suffice to say it involves Boss Hogg, corruption, and a road race in which the General must triumph. All pretty safe "Dukes" territory then, although it doesn't for a second feel like a retread.
Scott and Knoxville's Bo and Luke play as a sort of wired version of the originals. Whereas it was always implied that John Schneider's Bo was the ladies man, here we have Knoxville's Luke narrowly avoiding a bullet as he falls out of a window with his pants around his ankles. The movie gives us "Dukes" with a certain modern sensibility, a harder edge and, crucially, they're altogether more believable than those we grew up with. The casting of Jessica Simpson as Daisy caused controversy among Internet fan boys ever since it was announced, however she struts and smoulders her way through this film with her eyes closed and does exactly what is asked of her. Her acting abilities have been repeatedly called into question, however in doing so I think many are remembering the performances of Catherine Bach through Hemi Orange-tinted spectacles. What is slightly less-forgivable is the transmogrification of Rosco from bumbling but lovable dolt to straight down the line bad guy.
Chandrasekhar has been criticised for giving us a film minus the charm of the original and perhaps this is a criticism which is bang on the mark. What he does do however, is ramp up the fun factor. Scott and Knoxville deliver plenty of laugh out loud one-liners and we're always just a few minutes away from another car chase. To expect anything more from this movie given the source material is unfair. If the lack of any depth is a problem for some then they are clearly taking this movie too seriously.
However, one criticism that is absolutely without foundation is that this film is in some way racist. At one point our heroes are stuck in traffic on a highway just outside Atlanta, apparently unaware that, in repairing the General Lee, Cooter has embellished the roof with a Confederate flag. Some passing motorists shout abuse, some holler they're approval and the Duke boys? Well, they shrug indifferently. It is a moment that feels as uncomfortable as it is unnecessary.
"The Dukes of Hazzard" is not a bad film. It makes the best of the source material and delivers a movie that entertains and, in parts, enthrals. If you check your brain at the door and dispel any expectations of profundity, you'll enjoy it just fine.