Hazzard Payoff: These Dukes are made for crashing. Plus dead rockers and life-affirming penguins.

Running thoughts on movies and their makings.
Aug. 4 2005 3:08 PM

Hazzard Payoff

These Dukes are made for crashing. Plus dead rockers and life-affirming penguins. 

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Put up yer Dukes

It probably cost way too much to make, and please please don't let it become a [ shudder ] "franchise," but The Dukes of Hazzard (Warner Bros.) is a decent-enough rambunctious Southern-drive-in sort of time-waster, missing only the bare boobs that would make it the perfect socially irresponsible sexist entertainment for rednecks and uptight liberal elites who'd like to live the country-boy dream for a few hours. (Howdy, y'all!)

Usually at this point I'd offer a breezy sociological analysis of the original TV show and give a nod to Camille Paglia. But I was starting college when The Dukes of Hazzard aired and awash in my own form of moonshine. Never caught it, wouldn't have watched past the first minute if I had. For backwoods culture, I preferred the novelist Harry Crews—very popular with creative-writing teachers who smoked clove cigarettes. Seeing the show recently, I was struck by how little Southern flavor it had. Denver Pyle? Didn't he once play Doris Day's dad? The leads, John Schneider and Tom Wopat, have that fluffy early '80s Dallas hair and accents with no zing. And, apart from the opening credits, I never did see those short-short Daisy Dukes on Catherine Bach.

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Happily, the director of the feature, Jay Chandrasekhar, is less enamored with the original show than with what the original show ought to have been. In the movie, the yee-haw momentum doesn't slacken for too-earnest dialogue scenes. The script by John O'Brien (from a story by O'Brien and Jonathan L. Davis) has one foot planted in farce and the other not planted in anything. Whenever they're backed into a corner, the never-say-die Duke cousins, Bo (Seann William Scott) and Luke (Johnny Knoxville), dive headlong into their indestructible Dodge Charger, "the General Lee," and hurtle through a series of obstacle courses before (inevitably) soaring through the air while police cars disintegrate behind them.

The best part of the TV show—the freeze-frames while the narrator delivers a snatch of cornpone commentary—is lovingly preserved. The movie even boasts some bright one-liners, my favorite being: "You couldn't fix an election if your brother was the governor!" There was much-justified tsk-tsk-ing about the appearance of the Confederate flag, but it's a source of (amusing) controversy within the film, too.

Boss Hogg is played by one of the godfathers of the rowdy Southern chase comedy, Burt Reynolds. That's fun in prospect, but a bust in execution: Reynolds' talent is for underplaying, whereas Boss Hogg, as his name would suggest, is not an underplayer's sort of role. Reynolds tries to split the difference without the lines for it. Willie Nelson lends his legendary presence but not much more. More entertaining is Knoxville's limber Luke and Kevin Heffernan's good-natured paranoid sociopath Sheev. But it's Sean William Scott's demented Bo—eyes maniacally shining as the General shears off another police fender—that holds this rattletrap picture together.
 
And Jessica Simpson?

This from the Dukes of Hazzard press kit:

"When I was growing up those shorts drove me bananas," says director Jay Chandrasekhar. "I remember picking out the style of Daisy Dukes I wanted Jessica to wear, and when she first came on set wearing them, I was speechless because she looked phenomenal. Jessica's Daisy Dukes are even shorter than Catherine Bach's, which I honestly didn't think was possible."

The press notes continue: "The 23 pairs of Daisy Dukes that Simpson wears so very well span a mere ten inches from the bottom of the waistband to the top of the upper thigh ..."

A grungey Mr. Magoo. 
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A grungey Mr. Magoo

Now, I'm as riveted by a fine pair of gams as the next ostentatious heterosexual, and I left The Dukes of Hazzard bummed-out. Sad to say, Chandrasekhar doesn't know how to photograph those sculpted Daisy Dukes or their extraordinarily toned contents. What's with all the medium close-ups? What's with holding every long shot shot for barely two seconds? Of course, there is always the possibility that I was blinded by Simpson's teeth, which appear to have been polished with plutonium... 12:08 p.m. PT Watching Last Days (Picturehouse), the third chapter of Gus Van Sant's flamboyantly unsensational trilogy of films inspired by sensational deaths (the other two are Gerry and Elephant), you might find yourself puzzled—or, like me, irritated—by the long, seemingly pointless takes and by the director's mulish refusal to provide any sort of psychological explanation.

But hang in there. This one—a fictionalized recreation of Kurt Cobain's final week on this planet—makes brilliant temporal sense. Van Sant puts you on the same plane as Blake (Michael Pitt), who has lost all conception of time, whose grip on the present is more and more fragile. He is distant even from us: His hair hangs in his face until the film's last moments, and he mumbles half-intelligibly like a grunge Mr. Magoo. Staggering around his dilapidated country manse, barely acknowledging the parasitical hangers-on who stare at him dumbly, Blake is a somnambulist, estranged from the natural world, his music his only (fleeting) point of connection.

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