The Dukes of Hazzard

Ealasaid/ August 8, 2005/ Movie Reviews and Features, Writing

Directed by: Jay Chandrasekhar
Starring: Sean Williams Scott, Johnny Knoxville, Willie Nelson, Jessica Simpson, Burt Reynolds
Rated: PG-13 for sexual content, crude and drug-related humor, language and comic action violence.
Parental Notes: Some parents may have concerns with the racial and sexual humor of the film, but overall it’s a fairly average PG-13 rating. Not too scary for preteens, but maybe too intense (or too racy) for kids under 10.


There’s a certain kind of movie Hollywood seems to specialize in: the big, dumb action flick. Sometimes they rely on awesome effects to hold your attention. Sometimes they rely on unbelievably attractive actors. But sometimes you get the feeling that the actors were just having a grand ol’ time making it and kinda hope you’ll have as much fun as they did. “The Dukes of Hazzard” is definitely of the last sort. The entire cast is clearly having barrels of fun, and if you can ignore the fact that the film itself is so profoundly stupid as to border on offensiveness, you can have a lot of fun.
The story is straight out of the old show: Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds) has a dastardly plan to make himself rich at the expense of Hazzard county. The Duke boys, Bo (Sean Williams Scott) and Luke (Johnny Knoxville), are a couple of troublemakers who spend their time racing cars (Bo), chasing women (Luke), and delivering their Uncle Jesse’s moonshine. The figure out Hogg is up to something and along with their cousin Daisy (Jessica Simpson) and Uncle Jesse (Willie Nelson), they set out to stop him. What makes the film so dumb is its insistence on having incredibly moronic predicaments for its characters to get into.
The Duke boys, at various times during the film, pretend to be Japanese (successfully), smoke out with some sorority girls, drive their Confederate-flag-bearing car through a major urban area (where people of various ethnicities and political persuasions see it and react accordingly), get their faces covered with soot so they look like they are wearing blackface while driving said car (you can imagine how well that goes over), and so on. Now, it’s clear to us that the boys have their hearts in the right place: they are proud to be Southerners but don’t appear to be racist themselves (though the various African-American friends they had in the show are not in attendance in the film). But some of these jokes are so dumb it’s hard not to roll your eyes and groan. They bring nothing new to the table.
The movie dances around the idea of Southern racism without really resolving anything, and does the same for sexism: Daisy Duke may not be wearing quite so high-cut shorts as she did on the show, but she’s showing a lot more midriff than we saw on TV back then. She can put chauvinists in their place as well as one would hope (as is on display in the trailers for the film) and she even complains about having to flaunt her assets to help out her cousins when they’re in jail, but does that kind of self-awareness really keep the film from being sexist?
But we’re distracted from these issues by loads of car chases, silly comedy sequences, and some wonderfully dirty jokes courtesy of Uncle Jesse. Every actor in this film has a twinkle in his or her eye, as if to say “look how much fun we’re having! We don’t mean any harm, naw!” Burt Reynolds in particular is clearly having ten kinds of fun in front of the camera, hamming it up in his white suit and being delightfully wicked.
Ultimately, whether or not the film satisfies is dependent entirely on its audience. If you can let go of your intelligence and just have a ton of fun along with the folks on the screen, you’ll have a great time. But if you just can’t quite let go of the significance of the Confederate flag or if the objectification of women annoys you, you will probably feel like you’re being beaten over the head with a mason jar of moonshine. This is a love it or hate it kind of film, with very little room for a middle ground.
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