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‘Dukes of Hazzard’ is gleefully stupid

The film shoots as low as possible and hits that mark perfectly. By John Hartl

When a movie is as gleefully stupid as “The Dukes of Hazzard,” it’s practically critic-proof. When you aim so low, and consistently hit your mark, what’s to criticize?

True, the result may suggest, like a viewing of “The Gong Show Movie” or “Plan Nine From Outer Space,” that we’re nearing the end of civilization as we know it. But there’s a certain fascination about the experience of watching a wide-screen recreation of a television series that seemed impossibly retrograde a full quarter of a century ago. It’s that moth-to-the-flame thing.

And after all, if “Starsky & Hutch” and “The Beverly Hillbillies” can make the leap from the tube to the big screen, why not the Southern-fried adventures of seductive Daisy Duke, her hunky Georgian hillbilly cousins Bo Duke and Luke Duke, and their easily foiled sheriff, Roscoe P. Coltrane?

“The Dukes of Hazzard” lasted for six years on CBS-TV (1979 to 1985), and the film captures much of what made it successful: extra-tight outfits, outrageous car chases, harmless barroom brawls and subversive redneck humor. The good ole Duke boys’ car, an orange Dodge Charger named General Lee, bears a Confederate flag on its roof, though now it fetches as many catcalls as salutes.

The screenwriter, John O’Brien (who worked on the “Starsky & Hutch” movie), has updated a few other things as well. The script includes jokey references to e-mail, mad cow disease and Viagra; one punch line relies on an awareness of whodunit in the 1995 movie, “The Usual Suspects.” Do Bo and Luke really think about such things?

It seems a stretch, especially as Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott play the dimwit cousins, who are “closer than brothers” and demonstrate it by practicing adolescent S&M routines on each other (Scott’s character extends this weirdness by promising to have sex with the Dodge). Jessica Simpson, making her film debut as the cheerfully manipulative Daisy, is equally cartoonish.

Roscoe, who has been described as the comic engine that drove the series, is largely missing from the movie. Originally played by character actor James Best, he’s been replaced by M.C. Gainey, who plays Roscoe as a menacing but rather colorless figure.

Replacing him as comic relief are Willie Nelson (complete with pigtail) as gently anarchic Uncle Jesse, and Burt Reynolds, who was apparently cast because he demonstrated the commercial potential of redneck car-chase comedies with “Smokey and the Bandit” (1977). At least he has more to do here than he did in the recent “Longest Yard” remake.

Reynolds plays the evil Boss Hogg, described as “crooked as a hillbilly smile,” who intends to bring strip mining to the Mayberry-like town of Hazzard. Bo and Luke’s opposition to this dastardly plan feeds much of the plot, and it leads directly to the spectacular car chases that dominate the second half.

The movie is the PG-13 creation of director Jay Chandrasekhar and his comedy troupe Broken Lizard, whose previous features include the much raunchier, R-rated “Super Troopers” (2002) and “Club Dread” (2004). It is what is: pretty much what was intended, and that’s a pity.