There’s a legitimate philosophical argument about whether the world really needs a “The Dukes of Hazzard” movie, but assuming that someone was determined to remake this mediocre but iconic TV show, this is probably as good as it’s going to get. Loud, silly but kind of lame-brained fun with car chases aplenty, “Dukes” faithfully plays like an extended episode of the series, albeit with an additional gallon or so of fuel-injected raunchiness. Urban box office appears unpredictable, but hicks don’t figure to nix this sticks pic.
Warner Bros. certainly has a bit extra riding on the project, having recently paid $17.5 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the producer of the 1975 film “Moonrunners” to clear the path to its release. The more risque content, meanwhile, has already earned the disapproval of the actor who first played “Cooter,” for what that’s worth.
Frankly, though, there wasn’t much to the original program, and “Super Troopers” director Jay Chandrasekhar (of the comedy team Broken Lizard) has with only a few exceptions largely eschewed revisionist subtext. “Bewitched,” this isn’t.
Rather, John O’Brien’s script simply juggles and updates elements from the program that made its debut in the 1970s, serving up impressive stunt work, Jessica Simpson squeezed into Catherine Bach’s Daisy Duke shorts (its own kind of special effect) and one big-city road trip to Atlanta that delicately expands the concept — including how a group of African-American youths responds to a bright-orange car named General Lee with a Confederate flag on it.
Other than that, it’s the ol’ “Dukes” on steroids, down to the familiar narration and complete disregard for property and authority. Seann William Scott and Johnny Knoxville are closer-than-brothers cousins Bo and Luke Duke, two “good ol’ boys” with an appreciation for fast cars and loose women. Living with Uncle Jessie (Willie Nelson) and cousin Daisy (Simpson), they run a moonshine racket and irritate the town-dominating Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds) and his corrupt sheriff (M.C. Gainey).
After a slow start, the modest chassis of a plot takes shape, as Hogg orchestrates a high-profile auto race to distract the locals, hoping to push through a plan to consolidate his land holdings and strip-mine Hazzard County. That leaves it to the none-too-bright Bo and Luke, along with their eccentric pals and relatives, to thwart the scheme, evade the law and somehow find time for the race in 105 minutes.
Chandrasekhar wisely dispenses with any pretensions here, realizing it’s hard to sell narration that calls Boss Hogg “canny as a fox, tough as a badger” without an unflinching commitment to absurdity. Fortunately, he has a world-class doofus in Scott, who demonstrated this peculiar but highly marketable gift in the “American Pie” movies.
Some of the other performances are a little hit-or-miss (particularly wrestling with them darn Southern accents), and there are arid stretches where yet another mad dash along the back roads starts to feel like a hostage situation.
Still, the unassuming overall approach helps offset those shortcomings — recognizing that enough leaping Dodge Chargers and interludes like the one involving naughty sorority girls will go a long way with the young-male demo. It’s hard not to admire the technical craftsmanship, too, after seeing how many General Lees were damaged in making the film thanks to an outtakes sequence that perfectly underscores the goofy tone the movie seeks.
Beyond stoking appreciation for the stunt driving, those closing outtakes provide a reminder that screwball comedy is hard work. In that respect, credit “Dukes of Hazzard” with managing to make a juvenile romp with free-spirited rednecks go down as smoothly as a slug o’ moonshine on a hot August night.