THE DUKES OF HAZZARD
Since there's exactly one entertaining scene (preceded by one entertaining cutaway) in the entire film version of The Dukes of Hazzard - one sequence in this shockingly wrong-headed comedy that's the least bit amusing - let me just save you the $10 and describe it now: For reasons I've gone to great lengths to forget, Bo (Seann William Scott) and Luke (Johnny Knoxville) decide to make a pilgrimage to Atlanta, so they hop in the General Lee and high-tail it out of Hazzard County, speeding along their dirt road with "Yee-haaaaw"s a-blazin'. Cut to the freeway in Atlanta, with the General Lee stuck in traffic. (A nice moment.) As they wait, vehicles pass them on both sides; half of the drivers and passengers greet the boys with hearty "Way to go! The South will rise again!" admiration, and the other half sneer at them with "You're gonna be late for your Klan meeting, rednecks!" revulsion. It's unclear whether the boys ever realize that the source of the travellers' contention is the trademark Confederate flag on the General Lee's roof.
All it takes is one sequence like that to realize that a film's director and screenwriters aren't completely incompetent; there's a wit working behind the scenes somewhere. But how, in God's name, did director Jay Chandrasekhar and his collaborators manage to make their Dukes of Hazzard even less substantial than the TV series that inspired it? (It's not like they're adapting Ibsen here.)
No one in their right minds could expect a film version of this trash classic to be anything more than a goofball, shit-kickin' good time - at the very least, the movie should be harmless. Well I, for one, felt harmed. Besides that trek to Atlanta, the one time I smiled in the movie was when Joe Don Baker briefly showed up at the end, and that's only because I always smile when Joe Don Baker shows up. (The Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode where the 'bots tear apart Mitchell might be the funniest two hours of television I've ever seen.) It's pretty easy to see how this Dukes of Hazzard went awry, though; it's one of the most tonally incorrect movies I've endured in years.
How do you make a film version of The Dukes of Hazzard and ignore the show's lightness of spirit? That's all the show had. Within the movie's first 10 minutes, though, it's clear that it's all going to go very, very wrong. In place of the good-natured, Smokey & the Bandit-style bar fights and car chases, the film's "action" scenes are almost disturbingly violent, and not in any kind of enjoyable way; at one point in that opening bar brawl, a man is thrown over a tabletop and crashes into a woman's upper torso with such ferocity that, I swear to God, people around me sucked in their breath and muttered, "Owwww ... "
The Dukes of Hazzard is consistently surprising in the worst ways imaginable. With the film's PG-13 rating, we were assured of getting more profanity for our buck, but I didn't expect every utterance of "Damn!" and "Sumbitch!" to be hurled at us with such aggression, or to be accompanied by a needless close-up, in case we missed the overriding theme of "Dukes of Hazzard is a movie now! We can curse!" I assumed that Jessica Simpson, in her Daisy Dukes, was going to bring little to the party outside of the T&A, but I didn't guess that she would be introduced in a leering camera shot that traversed from her feet to her beaming smile over and over again - yes, she's hot, but Chandrasekhar spends so much time reminding us that she's hot that Simpson comes off as completely empty-headed; they could have cast a Jessica Simpson photo spread in the role and achieved the same effect. I assumed that the movie would be typically sexist and homophobic and racist, but ... well, on that level the movie wasn't surprising at all.
Yet the movie's biggest shocker lies in how perversely unfunny it all is. Neither Scott nor Knoxville is much of a natural comedian; they both have a mad gleam in their eyes, which is their biggest asset as performers, but neither has the comic inspiration to make fundamentally witless material play better than it should. And why are they playing their roles so seriously? Why is everyone? Boss Hogg and Roscoe P. Coltrane were lovable doofuses once upon a time, but not as enacted by Burt Reynolds and M.C. Gainey they're not; hissing with menace, this duo could be auditioning for psychopath roles in the next Rob Zombie endeavor. (Poor Willie Nelson, meanwhile, is used as a joke ... did you know the man likes to get high?) If you have previous awareness of the Dukes of Hazzard TV show, whatever your feelings about it, this cinematic updating may seem bizarre to the point of insanity. (If you don't, I'm guessing it'll just seem incoherent.) Heavy where it should be light, logy where it should be zippy, The Dukes of Hazzard isn't just a bad movie; it's a stupifyingly misguided one.
And, for reasons known only to studio heads, it was the only debuting national release to arrive over the August 5 weekend, meaning millions of suckers probably lined up for the film merely because it was the only new thing out there. I'm hoping at least a few of you chose to curl up with a good book instead.
Lynda Carter is among the injured parties appearing in The Dukes of Hazzard, but if you're jonesing to see the former Wonder Woman again, you're far better off catching her in Sky High, Disney's live-action comedy that cleverly uses super-heroics as a metaphor for puberty, and which is far smarter and a lot funnier than Dukes. By the time it gets to its action-blockbuster finale, the movie has pretty much run out of inspiration, but that still means you get nearly 90 minutes of pleasure from its visual gags and the contributions of a top-tier cast - Michael Angarano is superbly confident playing ill-at-ease, his high-school cohorts are all terrific, and Kurt Russell, former Kids in the Hall Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald, and the great Bruce Campbell are delightfully stylized. Sky High is perfect light escapism. Why, this summer, is that so hard to find?
MUST LOVE DOGS
Nonsensical plotting in the guise of "realism." Characters whose motivations and intentions switch on a dime. Labored, 10-years-too-late insights about the Internet and the singles scene. A group of supporting figures whose conversations only revolve around the leading lady's love life. Polished line readings from a cast - Diane Lane, John Cusack, Elizabeth Perkins, Christopher Plummer, Stockard Channing, Ben Shenkman - that's ridiculously ill-used. Zero in the way of romantic chemistry. Shameless propagation of every cliché in the chick-flick handbook. Dermot Mulroney, who's practically a chick-flick cliché unto himself. Must Love Dogs? I really, really didn't.