Another week, another TV remake that can’t decide whether to mock its cheesy source material or embrace it, and thus winds up uncomfortably in between. A new one comes out every seven days. You can set your watch by it. If you viewed that tape in “The Ring” right now, you’d be dead just moments before the next TV remake comes out.
It’s “The Dukes of Hazzard” this time, written by John O’Brien (“Starsky & Hutch”) and directed by Jay Chandrasekhar, of the comedy troupe Broken Lizard and the very funny film “Super Troopers.” He’s directed a few episodes of “Arrested Development,” too, which makes me wonder what happened here. Very little of his slyness or subtly has made it into this tale of two good ol’ boys. It is instead simply car crashes and slapstick, the elements that comprised the bulk of the original series. Which is fine, except that Chandrasekhar and company have executed them differently, with an archness, a sarcasm. The film wants to entertain you with mayhem and silliness, but also to mock you for finding mayhem and silliness entertaining.
Luke and Bo Duke are cousins, of course, who live with their other cousin Daisy and their Uncle Jesse on a farm in Hazzard County, Georgia. In a world where casting your TV update is more important than writing the script, Luke and Bo are played by Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott, while Jessica Simpson plays Daisy and Willie Nelson is Uncle Jesse. This means Luke is a daredevil ladies’ man, Bo is sweetly stupid, Daisy is a ho, and Uncle Jesse smokes pot. You can see why it’s important to cast first and write screenplays later.
Luke and Bo plan to race their souped-up Charger, the General Lee, in the annual Hazzard Rally this weekend, but true to form, they get caught up in some do-gooding in the meantime. Seems Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds), the county commissioner with everyone in his pocket, is planning something nefarious, confiscating the Duke family farm and eyeing others. Luke and Bo evade the police (led by Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane, played without an ounce of personality by M.C. Gainey), flirt with hot women, find clues and save the day, all while regularly causing the General Lee to be airborne. YEE-HAW!
Many of the details are what fans of the TV show will expect. Police cars wind up in ponds that were jumped over safely by the General Lee; Deputy Enos (Michael Weston) is easily manipulated by his lust for Daisy; Cooter (David Koechner) fixes the cars and provides general Duke support; there are brawls in the Boar’s Nest; Uncle Jesse runs moonshine.
Then there are the jokes about the Dukes being in a modern world. They catch flak for having a Confederate flag on the General Lee, for example, and someone scolds Boss Hogg for wearing white after Labor Day. It’s Chandrasekhar trying to please both camps, those who genuinely enjoy “The Dukes of Hazzard” on TV for its simple charm and broad humor, and those who like it for its camp value only, who watch it ironically.
It is very hard to have it both ways, and this movie doesn’t achieve it. Its biggest mistake: The characters of Boss Hogg and Roscoe. In the TV series, they were a Laurel and Hardy sort of pair, bumbling and blustering and sputtering like idiots. In this version, Burt Reynolds is far too slick (not to mention thin), and M.C. Gainey makes Roscoe slimy and evil, not at all the lovable stammerer that James Best was.
I don’t mean to say Boss Hogg and Roscoe were a classic TV pair, only that their relationship was fodder for a lot of comedy. But it was the kind of comedy that this movie would rather make fun of than indulge in, and so the characters — such a huge part of the original — are ciphers now, completely forgettable.
Yet the film insists on keeping the details intact. Boss Hogg is still portrayed as a glutton, even though he’s no longer fat. And Roscoe, sure enough, has a basset hound named Flash, even though this Roscoe doesn’t seem like the type who would.
Knoxville and Scott, for their part, aren’t playing characters named Luke and Bo so much as doing impressions of people playing characters named Luke and Bo. They commit to the characters only on a superficial level, going through the motions gamely but casually. They have a certain dumb-guy charm and humor to them, and the movie is not without its chuckles. But considering how funny the film could have been — either as a faithful big-screen adaptation or as a winking parody — this sloppy mix of both styles is as shameful as a pig in an outhouse, or something.
C- (1 hr., 46 min.; )