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The Dukes of Hazzard
Director: Jay Chandrasekhar
Cast: Johnny Knoxville, Seann William Scott, Jessica Simpson
ell me one more thing. Why do you hate the south?”
“I don’t hate it,” Quentin said, quickly, at once, immediately; “I don’t hate it,” he said. I don’t hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark: I don’t. I don’t! I don’t hate it! I don’t hate it!" -William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!
It is maybe for the better that Quentin Compson, one of the tortured narrators of Absalom, Absalom! burdened with a heritage that he cannot ignore, did not have a chance to see The Dukes of Hazzard. Otherwise, those last protestations would have been a much tougher sell.
The film, adapted from the television series which ran from the mid-seventies into the eighties, is directed by Jay Chandrasekhar and revolves around the exploits of Luke (Johnny Knoxville) and Bo (Seann William Scott) Hazzard, two southern boys who live a simple, bucolic life on a farm in Hazzard County, and who also, as it turns out, run a high-profile bootlegging operation. Bo, an amateur racer, hopes to take the top prize at an upcoming car rally, but he and his family face resistance from Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds), who impounds the Duke farm for his own nefarious purposes.
Knoxville, whose gross-out pranksterism often succeeds in context with his coterie of Jackass alumni, is now thirty-four, and, predictably, the years have not been kind. He has a bedraggled, partied-out air about him, and even some of his on-set antics (documented in a blooper reel after the film), seem outright desperate. In fact, both Knoxville and Scott are out of place in this movie, not just because their accents seem to have been derived from a single viewing of To Kill A Mockingbird, but because they fail to blend into their rural surroundings. In one sequence, Bo and Luke undertake a mission to a university in Atlanta to have a soil sample tested from their farm, a set-up which tries to mine humour from the boys’ fish-out-of-water status as a couple of rubes in the big city. The premise fails, however, because a college campus is precisely the cinematic locale in which Scott and Knoxville are the most at home.
Redneck family reunion?
Moreover, most of the film’s car chases—featuring the omnipresent General Lee—are awkwardly placed in this same urban setting, which serves to rocket past the (already blurred) line between good ol’ fashioned delinquency and dangerously criminal behaviour.
Along for the ride is Jessica Simpson, who plays Daisy Duke, Bo and Luke’s cousin, and whose presence the filmmakers wisely keep to a minimum. And as Simpson regularly fails to offer even a convincing portrayal of herself on the reality show Newlyweds, it is perhaps not a surprise that even in a role tailor-made for someone of her particular vapidity, her performance stands as entirely hollow. In fact, the only actor who seems to be having a genuinely good time here is Willie Nelson as Uncle Jesse, who I suppose is somewhat of a natural, and who stands out as one of the few that is able to reach the kind of jubilation being sought after.
The temptation for a screenwriter in adapting a television series for a feature-length film seems to be to raise the stakes, to expand the world of the show in ways that might warrant the augmented running time and heightened profile. The results, which often emerge from a premise that could only potentially fill twenty-two minutes of screen time, are almost never good, and—as with The Dukes of Hazzard—usually do nothing more than remind us why most television is a waste of time.
By: Bob Kotyk
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