On, reflection, maybe I am a contrarian; I’ve yet to read a positive word about Jay Chandrasekhar’s reboot of the old 1970’s tv show, and yet it works pretty well for me as a Saturday night movie. In a reverse of the current Paddington stand-off, I guess it’s purists and defenders of the original US tv show that can’t stand to see their favourite characters and scenarios modernised. I barely remember anything that was good about the original version beyond stunts, and am happy to tackle this text as a stand-alone movie. The brand promises hot cars, country music, corn-poke humour and pretty girls and that’s what Chandrasekhar delivers, plus the Super Troopers comedy that made his name as a director.
With most of the original cast refusing to come back for cameos citing the low quality of the script, the film becomes a greatest hits package themed around moonshine running and breaking the law. Willie Nelson is patriarch Uncle Jesse, who struggles to dampen down the high spirits of the Duke Boys (Seann William Scott and Johnny Knoxville) and their thrillbilly ways. Wonder-woman Lynda Carter mans the stove, while cousin Daisy (Jessica Simpson) bends the local cops around her little finger. The bad guys, looking to strip-mine Hazzard County with the law in their pocket, are led by moon-shiner turned politico Boss Hogg, played by Burt Reynolds.
Most of these elements are probably an upgrade on the original cast, and Chandrasekhar also doubles-down on the key element here; the car, which is to say the bright orange General Lee. The stunt-work here is pretty fantastic, including an eternal drift around a circular New Orleans location, doubling for Atlanta, that pops like a champagne cork when the General Lee flies off a ramp and drops onto a busy freeway. The film is sharp on the road, and pretty much all the characters take a backseat to stunt-work, again, no bad thing.
And at least The Dukes of Hazzard has the stones to update the material; Daisy’s attempts to woo the cops are thwarted by one of them new-fangled lady policemen, while the Hazzard boys and their Confederate flag attract the unwanted attentions of an urban-street gang. The attitude to sex and race is decidedly not-PC, but then again, no-one ever suggested that the Hazzard boys are role-models. Rather than preserve the memory of the tv show that was hard to love in the first place, this is a bright, aggressively silly confection about nothing; the car-stunts and the outtakes are the thing, and they don’t disappoint.