The Dukes of Hazzard

(Jay Chandrasekhar, USA, 2005)


Imagine a movie in which cars fly through the air and crash into the ground (or each other) without any driver or passenger ever breaking a bone; in which guns are fired but no-one is ever shot, wounded or killed; in which a shapely blonde spends her entire time on-screen strategically ‘distracting’ men with her body, but without this ever creating the slightest incident involving sex.

Welcome to the film version of the late 1970s television series, The Dukes of Hazzard. It begins well, with the quiet of a sleepy, little town interrupted by the sight of our hellraising heroes, Bo (Seann William Scott) and Luke (Johnny Knoxville), driving their car around with abandon. The subsequent plot, however – pitting the boys and their cousin, Daisy (Jessica Simpson), against the crooked Hogg (Burt Reynolds) and his cronies – tends to simply burn rubber until the predictable feel-good finale.

There is little wit or spectacle in this movie, but it does have a central idea that constitutes a marketing dream. Those who run the mainstream film industry are always looking for a concept that will somehow bring together diverse demographic sectors the of the market – for instance, by finding something that appeals to both teenagers and adults, or both women and men. This trick is much harder than it seems, and has in fact become a kind of Holy Grail for Hollywood.

This retooled version of The Dukes of Hazzard works hard at its across-the-board appeal. Firstly, there is the audience that fondly recalls the television show. In its time, the program tapped into a Smokey and the Bandit-type tradition of good-time, anti-authoritarian, Southern comedy (a genre sometimes called the swamp movie). Booze (or moonshine), a rural setting, country’n’western music, dopey cops and girls in tight, cut-off jeans were the hallmarks of this corner of pop culture. (For a classic reference, I suggest hunting down a video of Six-Pack Annie [1975].)

How to retain and yet update all of that? Firstly, you slip in Willie Nelson as a bit player, and get him to sing the television show’s theme song (Merle Haggard’s "Good Ol’ Boys") in the final scene. You cast Burt Reynolds as an actor who spans the ’70s and today. And then come the modern touches, encompassing performers and styles which can also boast some shade of anti-authoritarianism: a bit of heavy metal rock on the soundtrack, Knoxville from the zany Jackass franchise, and both a star (Scott) and director (Jay Chandrasekhar) associated with youthful trash comedies like Super Troopers (2002).

The Dukes of Hazzard does little more than simply roll out this cavalcade of swamp-trash-country citations – all watered down to a level of innocent fun. It is not much of a movie, but you have to admire the genius of its demographic engineering.

© Adrian Martin September 2005

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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