- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 4, 2005

We can’t say Cooter didn’t warn us. Ben Jones, who played the sweet-tempered mechanic Cooter on TV’s good-ol’-joyful series “The Dukes of Hazzard,” warned whoever would listen that the movie remake, out today, was a “sleazy insult” and urged “Dukes” fans to “hold their noses and pass this one up.”

I would add, alternatively, that they could hold their noses and see it.

Either way, it stinks.

Jay Chandrasekhar (“Broken Lizard’s Club Dread”) is the director, John O’Brien the screenwriter (he retooled another ‘70s TV series for the big screen in last year’s “Starsky and Hutch”). Between them, they managed to make a movie that’s incredibly tacky and yet dull at nearly every hairpin turn.

There are inside pot jokes (country singer/marijuana maven Willie Nelson plays the Dukes’ Uncle Jesse), sex pranks (Johnny Knoxville’s Luke is evidently the scourge of Hazzard County’s young womenfolk) and lots of va-va-vooming from Jessica Simpson as short-shorted Daisy Duke, who is the family’s designated damsel of distraction (she’s always there to flash some cleavage when the boys are in a pinch).

Yet none of it adds up to genuine sleaze. It’s just … trying.

I first knew something was fundamentally wrong with these “Dukes” when Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane comes on the scene. He’s played by M.C. Gainey, the naked raving lunatic who gave Paul Giamatti the scare of his life in “Sideways.” He rings totally false: too malicious, no longer buffoonish.

Next, Mr. Chandrasekhar introduces Hazzard County kingpin Boss Hogg, done originally by the late Sorrell Booke as a short, fat gourmand. When we first see the man in white here, his face is obscured so as to hide, however briefly, the face of One. Burt. Reynolds.

What a casting coup. What a clever, intergenerational gag. What a bust, actually. My screening audience couldn’t have cared less about Mr. Reynolds’ presence, greeting him with a collective silent shrug. By the time the movie winds up to its off-road race of a climax, it reeks of some forgotten “Cannonball Run” sequel from Mr. Reynolds’ prime.

Which is what the filmmakers wanted, on an ironic level. If only their cast had the smarts to pull it off. Seann William Scott (of “American Pie” franchise fame) is usually a dependable demon of a nut job, but, as re-imagined by Mr. O’Brien, Bo Duke is a bumpkin naif with a weird car fetish. Mr. Scott spends half the movie behind the wheel of the Dodge Charger known as the General Lee and the other half mock-mad at Mr. Knoxville’s Luke, the (comparatively) shrewd rebel of the Duke clan.

As for Miss Simpson, well, all I can say is that even her while-the-credits-roll outtakes aren’t funny.

“The Dukes” actually gets a lift when it quits aping the TV series, with its freeze-framed action scenes and twangy narration, and takes an unexpected trip to a college campus in Atlanta. (Bo and Luke are there to get a line on a soil sample, which they stole from a safe belonging to Boss Hogg, who has seized the Duke family farm as part of a scheme to — oh, whatever; it doesn’t really matter.)

While stuck in urban gridlock, the Stars-and-Bars-clad General Lee raises hackles, and middle fingers. The Dukes also wind up in the black section of town, which is probably what many who watched the TV series meanly wished would happen to goody-goodies Tom Wopat and John Schneider.

The lesson of “The Dukes” is that it’s harder than you think to make meta-kitsch out of kitsch.

*1/2

TITLE: “The Dukes of Hazzard”

RATING: PG-13 (Sexual content; profanity; crude and drug-related humor; and comic violence)

CREDITS: Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar. Produced by Bill Gerber. Written by John O’Brien based on characters created by Gy Waldron. Cinematography by Lawrence Sher. Original music by Nathan Barr.

RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes.

WEB SITE: http://dukesofhazzard.warnerbros.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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