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Dukes of Hazzard

The mind is a forgiving master. It erases traumatic memories, protecting us from having to relive the unthinkable over and over again.
I escaped seeing the television series the Dukes of Hazzard throughout the car wreck that was the late 1970s and early 80s or, if I did see it, my mind was resilient enough to blank out the memory. In an age of incredibly terrible television, the Dukes of Hazzard was the ultimate in bad entertainment, suitable only for cranky fans of Hee-Haw who resented not having any southern bell T&A to ogle on network TV.
I would rather see a feature-length remake of Mr. Whipple imploring hapless housewives to not squeeze the Charmin. At least there’s a subversive subtext to this scenario. Why do these women feel the need to squeeze toilet paper? Why does Whipple himself give way to the temptation, his eyes furtive and dark as he secretly caresses the Charmin? What’s happening in culture and in these characters’ private lives to create such an odd compulsion?
Ah, but I digress.
In fact, of all the annoying characters I do not need to revisit from those days – Mr. Roarke from Fantasy Island, Doc from the Love Boat, Barretta, Kojack and all the cops of Barney Miller – Bo and Luke Duke rank at the very bottom. They are the sorts of losers you avoid at high school reunions, not because they’ve changed, but because you fear they’ve remained horribly the same.
Why anyone would drag these cadavers out of the sitcom morgue is beyond me, but here they are, just a couple of dumb-ass rednecks, erm, I mean good old boys, making their big-screen debut in Dukes of Hazzard. Bo (Sean William Scott) and Luke (Johnny Knoxville) Duke are reckless moonshiners beating the crap out of a 1969 Dodge Charger that would probably sell for more on Ebay than their kidneys, outrunning the local police, and blowing shit up.
Dukes of Hazzard is a movie for people who like to see things go boom. Cars explode in a rain of fire, people shoot at one another for engaging in low-grade petting, and the film endorses violence as a form of recreation. There’s a strong argument for gun laws – or forced sterilization – in this movie, and it’s difficult to wonder how a film this irresponsible can be made post-Columbine.
Burt Reynolds makes an appearance as Boss Hogg, cashing in on his good mojo to play a character that seems somehow more superficial than the original. There is a kind of waxed quality to Reynolds that might unnerve those accustomed to seeing actors with flesh that has rebound and other human qualities, but his performance pales in comparison to Jessica Simpson’s.
Simpson plays Daisy, Bo and Luke’s Barbie-Doll cousin. Simpson isn’t so much an actress as an occasion to shut all mental functions down. I believe that having sexual feelings for something so plastic and ineffectual is a kind of fetish, like being turned on by carpet or shoes, and Simpson almost makes the rest of the cast seem passable by comparison, which is like saying AIDS makes syphilis seem like a seasonal cold.
There’s also a helpful voice-over which is oddly NOT Morgan Freeman for those who are not swift enough to keep up with the plot. And the plot? Things go boom. Guns are cool. Cops are corrupt and stupid. Men will do foolish things for a bimbo wearing short shorts.
Ah, but that’s not all: The film also has an embarrassing cultural critique of the Confederacy flag that’s so far beyond it’s depth that it actually argues against it’s own point. 
Dukes of Hazzard takes place in a fantasy world where strong, southern men overcome corruption by tapping into the almost primal power of good old American steel – Mopar muscle – and good luck. The flip side is, however, a horrific vision of America gone mad and watching these white-trash hot-rodders shooting at cops, breaking into homes, and blowing things up, you can’t help but wonder if we’re taken a wrong step as a nation.
Thank god there’s no idea ugly enough that the mind can’t blot it out in time.

 

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