And so, once more, the cineplex emits the stink of the network rerun, this week offering yet another worthless big-screen take on small-screen detritus. As Hollywood wonders -- cries, actually, over spilt spoiled milk -- why audiences are staying away from theaters, offering theories ranging from the absence of such phenoms as The Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11, the quick DVD turnaround, and the rise in spiffy living-room theaters, the studios avoid the real reason altogether. Their movies reek, quite simply, like decaying corpses, which isn't so much metaphor as literal explanation when you consider that this has been a summer populated by such boob-tube zombies as Bewitched and The Honeymooners, both of which follow closely on the worn-out heels of last year's Starsky & Hutch and two gaseous Charlie's Angels movies not worth the price of emission. And we've yet to take into account such 2005 big-screen retreads as Herbie: Fully Loaded, House of Wax, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Longest Yard, and Bad News Bears, all bankrupt before they tried lifting your wallet.
Now moving to the head of the line is The Dukes of Hazzard, a redo of a hit show that was already so awful, the filmmakers really had to try hard to do it one worse; that they succeeded, perhaps, is how they justify their paychecks, because one really must put substantial effort into making movies this willfully and unbearably awful. The pitch alone sounded terrible: Combine the "comedy" team of Broken Lizard, behind Super Troopers and Club Dread, with the show about hillbilly cousins Bo and Luke Duke, second fiddles to a 1969 Dodge Charger adorned with a Confederate flag and a horn that blows "Dixie." The result does not disappoint: If it's not the worst movie of the year, it's only because Dukes arrives late in a game crowded with contenders such as Be Cool, Bewitched, and Bad News Bears. But it does make a valiant effort to keep pace.
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Unbelievably, director and co-writer Jay Chandrasekhar, writer John O'Brien (Starsky & Hutch), and Chandrasekhar's Broken Lizard mates actually use an old Dukes script as their jumping-off point -- specifically the episode "Farewell, Hazzard," about efforts to strip-mine the Georgia town, given a racecar twist to rev the engines of the NASCAR Nation. And the filmmakers keep intact the show's conventions: its theme song performed by Waylon Jennings, heard over the opening credits and played again at the end by Willie Nelson, as Uncle Jesse; the voiceover narration; and a narrative that involves little more than extended scenes of police cars chasing the General Lee down dirt roads. Apparently there are some who believe that The Dukes of Hazzard should be treated as a sacred text. These are the very people who eagerly await big-screen makeovers for B.J. and the Bear, Carter Country, and The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo.
The filmmakers, of course, do make alterations to lure the teenager not yet born when Dukes was on the air, casting Seann William Scott, Stifler from the American Pie trilogy (!) as Bo Duke, Jackass Johnny Knoxville as Luke, and Jessica Simpson as Daisy, the last being required to do little more than disrobe every few minutes, even while lamenting the fact that folks won't stop staring at her cleavage. To keep the old-timers content, they've rounded out the cast with aging whore Burt Reynolds as Boss Hogg, TV's Wonder Woman Lynda Carter as Pauline, and Joe Don Baker as the governor of Georgia.
The Dukes of Hazzard
Chandrasekhar and his posse, so self-congratulatory that they even throw in a Super Trooper parody, have also turned Dukes into a PG-13 doper's sex romp, which is as oxymoronic as it sounds; the movie has all the bite of a fourth-grader's doo-doo joke. Not even the actors look like they believe in the tepid dialogue, filled with lines (such as "I'm gonna go inside and wash my mongoose" and "Boy, you couldn't fix an election if your brother was governor") that go splat like a high-diver jumping from a hundred feet into an empty pool. And the few comic possibilities that do exist -- Bo and Luke lost on a college campus, Uncle Jessie as a pothead, some street-corner gangstas' reaction to the Stars and Bars atop the General Lee -- are wasted, as though wringing actual laughs from the movie would be beside the point. The movie is so unfunny it almost appears to be that way on purpose, kind of like a Bergman film.
Only Scott, sporting stubble that looks as if each hair were pasted on individually, gives anything resembling a performance; he's got the timing of a Rolex and tries like hell to keep the thing from going to hell, without much luck. Simpson is consistently out-acted by her bikini, but if nothing else, this flick should put an end to Johnny Knoxville's efforts to make it as an actor, an experiment that's already resulted in the worst John Waters movie ever (A Dirty Shame) -- which is saying something -- two direct-to-video releases (Life Without Dick and Grand Theft Parsons), and several other movies even bootleggers dare not touch. He's good at only one thing: getting hit in the balls with stuff. Perhaps his acting career is meant to give the audience some idea of what that feels like.