Title: The Dukes of Hazzard
Genre: Adventure, Comedy
Director: Jay Chandrasekhar
Screenwriters: John O’Brien
Starring: Seann William Scott, Johnny Knoxville, Jessica Simpson
An existential despair filled me as I sat there watching The Dukes of Hazzard. Not only is this movie not funny, but it seems to not be funny on principle. It is as if to make us laugh, to provide any glimpse of energy, wit or charm, would be against its religion somehow, an affront to its morality. I got fidgety. I leaned across the empty seat next to me and started playing with the armrests. I informed the person on the other side of me that I was bored. I started searching for the crying children in the audience, making bets with myself on how long until they were thrown out along with their parents. As an experiment I took off my glasses; feeling guilty for neglecting my duties as a film reviewer, I put them back on.
This sort of anguish is a rare thing for me. Typically, I embrace the bad movie experience. A lot of times I learn something — about bad movies, if nothing else — and a vast majority of the time, I find something to appreciate even amidst the generally inane: a quirky performance, interesting shot selection, a bizarre and funny joke, something to justify the time spent (for a movie buff, it doesn’t take much). Dukes of Hazzard offers less than nothing. It’s not a bad film, not as I understand the concept; it’s a negation of cinema. You would actually be a better, more complete person by not watching it.
An admission is in order: I have never so much as glimpsed the early-80’s television show on which The Dukes of Hazzard is based. I do not need to. I refuse to even entertain the possibility that familiarity with the source material would make the movie more tolerable. There is no universe in which any portion of the screenplay is amusing; no universe, in fact, wherein it is written with anything but contempt for the concept of humor. I’ve heard mixed reviews of the show; some seem to recall its campy tone fondly. The film doesn’t know what camp is.
Johnny Knoxville is never funny, in any medium, but his co-star, Seann William Scott, is, and it is almost amazing to watch him rendered utterly ineffectual here. His mannerisms — wide-eyed determination, cocky swagger — so memorable in the American Pie films, are mere affectations here, not in service of a character but just an aimless, stupid, arbitrary screenplay. Still, he manages to singlehandedly provide the film’s sole laugh in his reaction to someone being from Australia; I almost don’t need to tell you that the joke itself is not funny, but hte way Scott delivers it made me smile. I believe it was the only time.
The story has nothing to offer. It’s a series of car chases, with the heroes and villains equally moronic and contemptible. The script seems to be leading toward a climactic race, with the Duke cousins facing off against the evil Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds) and his henchmen, and we wish it would just get there, instead of leading us through a dozen other contrivances involving that damn car, bumbling policemen, a sneering Reynolds, and the Dukes trying to pose as Japanese scientists. The latter is conceptually quite funny, but executed with a stunning blandness; the idea I got was that these characters are just too damn dumb to actually make it into a witty ruse.
Oh, and then there is Jessica Simpson as Daisy Duke, deployed for maximum boobage in the advertising, and clearly a ploy to attract a male contingent that may otherwise have no interest. She would be much hotter if she were not a cyborg, and her trademark ditziness combined with her plastic-looking body (gorgeous, but in the same way the U.S.S. Independence is gorgeous) and hideous southern accent form something creepily manufactured. Her closest equivalent is the T-X from Terminator 3… Scary, scary, scary. Couldn’t they have hired someone beautiful and human?
The Dukes of Hazzard was “directed” by Jay Chandrasekhar, whose involvement with the Broken Lizard comedy troupe (see: Super Troopers, Club Dread), as well as tv shows like Andy Richter Controls the Unviverse and Arrested Development suggest real talent, but whose work here suggests, uh, something else. But perhaps he is not to blame; who the hell knows? I’m not sure what killed this movie or when, and I’m too tired of it to analyze any further. There is nothing to analyze anyway. The Dukes of Hazzard is all idiocy, all the time. It has no other characteristics, and, it seems, few other ambitions. It’s a dead zone, and barely a movie.