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'Dukes' hazard is to the audience

Never has there been so much grinnin' and so few laughs. Story and character also are in short supply.

August 05, 2005|Kenneth Turan | Times Staff Writer

"The Dukes of Hazzard" is a film that is not there. It can't really be reviewed because it doesn't really exist. It is not empty calories, which implies pleasure, but simply empty. It's a cosmic void where a movie ought to be.

A collection of promotable elements strung together until it's time for the next show, "Dukes" is vapid even by the standards of the venerable TV series about Southern boys and their toys -- rarely confused with "Omnibus" or "Masterpiece Theatre" -- it's based on. With no plot, character or dialogue worth experiencing, let alone remembering, the film merely occupies space on the screen and hopes for the best.

True, there are signs that "Dukes" has been carefully engineered in the hopes of pleasing teenage boys and the grown men who wish high school was eternally in session. But even those who remember being amused by the casualness of the small screen version will find that 104 labored minutes of this material stretches it tighter than Daisy Dukes' celebrated shorts.

The best thing you can say about director Jay Chandrasekhar's version of the 1980s series is that it is good-humored, no small thing in this disagreeable day and age. We return one more time to mythical Hazzard County, "where people are never too busy to say howdy" and adults do more cackling than the entire cast of "Chicken Run."

The film's promotable element No. 1 is that devilish pair of eternally grinning Duke boys, closer to action figures than actual people, good-looking cousins Bo (Seann William Scott) and Luke (Johnny Knoxville). Forever "fightin', fussin' and funnin,' " happiest when they're walloping each other with phone books, the Dukes never saw a problem a car crash couldn't solve.

The boys dote on their ride, the celebrated Dodge Charger nicknamed the Gen. Lee, a.k.a. promotable element No 2. Between racing the back roads, delivering the prime moonshine made by genial Uncle Jessie (Willie Nelson) and smooching with girls, preferably all at the same time, the over-subscribed Dukes barely have a minute to call their own.

Promotable element No. 3 is the aforementioned Daisy Duke, played in her screen debut by Jessica Simpson, who's become quite the celebrity for reasons no one seems to remember. Simpson is not a great actress, but then the part of a hot tamale who dresses like a Las Vegas cocktail waitress doesn't exactly call for one. What it does call for is someone who understands the dynamics of those famously abbreviated shorts. Simpson worked out for two hours a day and "cut sugar and fried foods out of my diet" just to fit into them. And you thought being "considered an international style icon" was easy.

Having as much chance of besting these good people as Wile E. Coyote had of catching the Road Runner -- but still willing to try -- is nasty Boss Hogg, played by Burt Reynolds as a parody of a parody of his better performances. The boss is so politically incorrect, he wants to strip mine Hazzard, something that leaves the residents aghast. For shame, Boss, for shame.

The credited writer behind all this feckless piffle is John O'Brien, but members of director Chandrasekhar's Broken Lizard comedy troupe have let it be known that they had a hand in the script. Why anyone would want to boast that they wrote lines like "Man, that rattled my sphincter" is not immediately clear, but Hollywood has always been a strange place.

The only person who thinks "The Dukes of Hazzard" is a substantial piece of work might be its producer, who told the Los Angeles Times, apparently with a straight face, that the film is "a tougher, more subversive movie than one might expect." If you buy that, you probably think Krispy Kreme doughnuts are one tough, subversive food group.

The last word on this non-film film should go to a man who likely has not seen it, cartoonist Wiley Miller of the daily comic "Non Sequitur." A recent strip featured a movie marque reading "Now Showing: Another Lame Movie Version of a 60s Sitcom, as Hollywood Has Completely Run Out of Any Semblance of Creativity and Is Banking on Your Being Too Stupid to Notice." Change the decade, and that about says it all.


'The Dukes of Hazzard'

MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexual content, crude and drug-related humor, language and comic action violence

Times guidelines: Cartoonish sex and violence

Released by Warner Bros. Pictures. Director Jay Chandrasekhar. Producer Bill Gerber. Executive producers Eric McLeod, Dana Goldberg, Bruce Berman. Screenplay John O'Brien. Cinematographer Lawrence Sher. Editors Lee Haxall, Myron Kerstein. Costumes Genevieve Tyrell. Music Nathan Barr. Production design Jon Gary Steele.

Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.

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