There’s a stink coming off the big-screen Dukes of Hazzard that even fans of the TV series (1979 to 1985) won’t be able to shake out of their nostrils. With Bo Duke (Seann William Scott) and his Georgia cousin Luke Duke (Johnny Knoxville) behind the wheel of the General Lee, that orange 1969 Dodge Charger still flies. Everything else lands with a thud. I have no problems with the jokes being lowbrow and moronic. Hey, it’s still summer. But the film oozes the desperation of people sweating hard to create the illusion that if you yell “yee-haw” long enough, you’ll have a good time. It’s not happening.
The big news is the casting of pop princess Jessica Simpson as sexpot cousin Daisy Duke. (Catherine Bach created the role for TV.) Simpson had never acted in a movie before squeezing into Daisy’s short-shorts. As far as I’m concerned, her record is clean. Simpson’s body is unimpeachable, but her thespian talent is still undiscovered country. It’s as if director Jay Chandrasekhar (Super Troopers) told her to treat her performance like a photo shoot: Turn. Smile. Pout. Primp. Her stiff line delivery could be a reaction to John O’Brien’s labored, laugh-free script. Let Meryl Streep try to get a redneck to fix her car by sticking out her boobs and saying, all flirty-like, “I think something bounced up into my undercarriage.”
Simpson’s star billing is misleading. She merely visits the movie from time to time, letting the camera photograph her like a prize heifer. The heavy lifting falls to the boys. Scott does his Stifler thing, and Knoxville does his Jackass thing. Nothing there to erase the memory of TV’s Bo (John Schneider) and Luke (Tom Wopat). For Schneider, who has a gig on Smallville, and Wopat, who is a strong stage actor (Glengarry Glen Ross), Hazzard hasn’t been a career hazard. Scott and Knoxville, who expend their energy climbing in and out of the General Lee, should be so lucky.
The other actors must fight over the script’s slim pickings. As Boss Hogg, Burt Reynolds carries what passes for a plot. Hogg uses the auto race that ends the film as a decoy to win court permission to strip-mine Hazzard County and steal the farm where Uncle Jesse Duke (Willie Nelson) makes his moonshine. Nelson shuffles through the movie cracking jokes: “What do you call a hillbilly carrying a sheep under each arm?” Answer: “A playboy.”
As Dukes drags to a close, you might ask yourself how many car chases you can watch before your eyes glaze over. At one point, the film’s narrator says, “If you have to go to the bathroom, now would be the wrong time.” I beg to differ. There is no wrong time to flush this turd. The only bright spot comes during the outtakes over the final credits. Suddenly, the actors seem loose, Simpson’s smile is warm and natural, and we watch the stunt drivers ply their trade like kids with the world’s best toys. For a few minutes, the movie flickers with a party spirit. It’s too little and too late.