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08/22/2005 - THE DUKES OF HAZZARD
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THE DUKES OF HAZZARD by Tom McCurrie


Because I loved THE DUKES OF HAZZARD TV show (heck, I even watched the ENOS spin-off religiously), saying I was excited to see the feature version was like saying the Dukes' Rebel Yell is a little loud. Unfortunately, because I loved the TV show, I was mighty disappointed with what I finally saw up there on the big screen.

Written by John O'Brien, and directed by Jay Chandrasekhar (SUPER TROOPERS, CLUB DREAD), DUKES misses the flavor of the TV show in two important ways. First, there is the Dukes themselves. As the TV Dukes, Tom Wopat and John Schneider may not have been Emmy-caliber performers, but their good-looks and low-key, roguish charm made them the Dixie version of James Bond: men wanted to be like them and women wanted to be with them. In the Dukes' big-screen incarnation, Johnny Knoxville and Sean William Scott can hardly be called good-looking (goofy-looking is probably a more accurate description), while their childish, silly behavior (belting each other with phone books after losing a bet) often makes them more like Beavis and Butthead than James Bond.

The villains, Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds) and Sheriff Coltrane (M.C. Gainey), have the opposite problem. Burt and M.C. play their roles in an understated, almost serious way that tamps down the laughs. On the TV show, the over-the-top performances of Sorrell Booke, practically drooling with greed and wickedness as Hogg, and James Best, bumbling all over himself as dimwit lackey Coltrane, were part of the fun. Burt and M.C. come across tepid by comparison, and without this larger-than-life quality they not only seem less funny, but also less a threat to the Dukes.

To put it ever so bluntly, the film version of DUKES gets it all wrong by reversing what worked so well with the TV series - it makes the good guys over-the-top and the bad guys low-key, throwing the picture off balance. That's because framing the characters this way makes it harder to identify with the good guys and harder to hate the bad guys.

Now some of the other casting is fine. For example, Willie Nelson makes an able replacement for Denver Pyle's Uncle Jesse. Unfortunately, he is given some of the lamest jokes in the picture (one groaner compares Viagra to politicians). Even worse are the cliched gags about Australians, making fun of their "shrimp on the barbie" slang, "humor" that was trite when CROCODILE DUNDEE came out twenty years ago. This brings up another issue with DUKES the Movie - for a comedy, it really isn't that funny. Case in point, there is a scene where Knoxville and Scott trick a lab technician into thinking they're Japanese. The problem is, Knoxville and Scott don't look or talk like Japanese, so it's difficult to understand why someone as educated as a lab tech would think they were. Instead of chuckling over how clever the Dukes are, we're so confused we forget to laugh.

Luckily, the DUKES movie gets some things right. The filmmakers were wise to cast the most gorgeous woman on the planet, Jessica Simpson, as Daisy Duke. At least half the audience (i.e. guys) will be riveted every time this sultry beauty strolls onto the screen. (Still, for me Catherine Bach edges out Jessica as the best Daisy, since she has an earthier, more approachable appeal.)

The DUKES movie does top its TV cousin in one important way - the phenomenal action. The beloved General Lee zooms down country roads, threads through barns (on two wheels yet) and seemingly jumps every river and roadblock below the Mason-Dixon line. Expertly photographed and cut for the widescreen, these sequences offer some of the best thrills of the summer. And with all due respect to SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, DUKES contains the best jump I've ever seen, as the General Lee makes a sky-high leap onto an interstate highway filled with moving traffic. This was a stunt so dangerous the producers wouldn't allow a driver to be in the car, since they had to literally launch the vehicle in a catapult to get it high enough! (Stick around for the outtake-laden end credits to see how the filmmakers wrecked nearly 30 General Lees trying to get their jumps just right.)

If you like jaw-dropping action, and that includes Jessica Simpson strutting around in a bikini, the big-screen DUKES will deliver. But if you miss the engaging characters and good-natured humor of the TV show, skip the movie and rent the series on DVD.


Responses, comments and general two-cents worth can be E-mailed to gillis662000@yahoo.com.

(Note: For all those who missed my past reviews, they're now archived on Hollywoodlitsales.com. Just click the link on the main page and it'll take you to the Inner Sanctum. Love them or Hate them at your leisure!)

A graduate of USC's School of Cinema-Television, Tom McCurrie has worked as a development executive, story analyst, screenwriter and teacher of screenwriting. He lives in Los Angeles and is currently working on his first novel.

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