Bucking the trend of film adaptations of old television shows that feel compelled to place a post-modern twist on the material, the new big screen adaptation of the early 80s southern-fried series The Dukes Of Hazzard is as empty-headed as it’s source- an hour and forty minutes of car cashes and crashes, punctuated with a bit of sexual titillation and laid back humor.
The plot here is a trifle. Bo (Seann William Scott) and Luke (Johnny Knoxville) Duke are cousins who deliver moonshine across mythical Hazzard County, where we are told that people “are never too busy to stop and say ‘Howdy!’, for their Uncle Jesse (Willie Nelson) in their souped up Dodge Charger, the General Lee. After crooked county commissioner Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds) manages to get the Dukes evicted from their farm, the Duke boys discover that Hogg has secret plans to stripmine a large portion of Hazzard County. Of course, it is up to them, added by their other cousin Daisy (Jessica Simpson) and their friends Cooter (David Koecher) and Heev (Kevin Heffernan), to stop Hogg.
The story here is virtually non-existent, just a weak excuse to hang numerous car chases and automotive stunt work for which the Dukes seem to have an affinity. Director Jay Chandrasekhar tries to work the material into some sort of coherency, but fails. Chandrasekhar, along with his cohorts from the Broken Lizard comedy troop for whom he helmed their features Puddle Cruiser (1996), Super Troopers (2001) and Club Dread (2004), took an uncredited stab at the film’s script but to no avail. (Broken Lizard fans might want to watch the film just for the cameos from the group, including one that recalls a great moment from Super Troopers.) He does do a good job filming the automobile action, specifically a car chase through downtown Atlanta and a climactic dirty road rally race through Hazzard.
Headlining the cast, Scott and Knoxville manage to bring a bit of charm to their roles of the Duke cousins. Sadly, these are performances that deserve a better film. The rest of the main cast – Nelson, M. C. Gainey as Sheriff Coltrane and singer Jessica Simpson as hottie Duke cousin Daisy – turn in uniformly bad performances. Reynolds’s performance is especially disappointing as he built a career on playing good ol’ boys like the Duke cousins. It would have been interesting to see him turn that Southern charm towards a more nefarious agenda. Instead, he tries to go for a cold and menacing vibe for his version of Boss Hogg, an acting decision that feels wrong for both the character and the actor.