There are two time-tested approaches for turning old TV shows into new movies: make everything the same, only bigger, louder, and longer (witness S.W.A.T.), or milk the source material for laughs and inside jokes (à la everything from The Brady Bunch Movie to Starsky & Hutch). Both routes have their problems, but one pretty much precludes the other. But no one involved in The Dukes Of Hazzard seems to have figured that out. A big-screen version of the late-'70s/early-'80s hicksploitation action series, the big-screen remake tries to goof on the show's familiar elements while delivering the goods using those same elements. It's a send-up of a show that never took itself too seriously, yet it tries in all seriousness to mimic it when not mocking it. It's got a few laughs and some impressive car chases, but mostly, it's just a puzzling jumble of gags and exhaust fumes.
It begins promisingly enough, however, with world-class dumb guy Seann William Scott listening to the audiobook autobiography of racing champion Al Unser, as read by Laurence Fishburne. That funny bit leads into a not-so-funny stretch of car-chasin' and bar-fightin' that could have come directly from an episode of the show. Even the lighting and camera angles used to shoot the Boar's Nest—the show's oft-destroyed roadhouse—look like they're taken directly from the series. As Luke Duke, Johnny Knoxville appears perfectly conscious that he's in a silly movie, and the movie is at its best when it realizes this too, as when a trip to Atlanta leads to all the wrong kind of attention from both those who approve and those who disapprove of the Confederate flag on the roof of the General Lee.
Speaking of which, that '69 Dodge Charger gets put through some impressive paces in some refreshingly CGI-free action sequences, the best of their kind since The Fast And The Furious. Fans of metal hitting asphalt won't want to miss them. But to get to the action, they'll have to sit through Burt Reynolds' half-assed attempt to fill the shoes of Boss Hogg, and Jessica Simpson's attempt to fill out Daisy Duke's Daisy Dukes. (There's a full ass involved in that, but her acting skills—all mannequin smiles and stripper body language—make Catherine Bach seem like Katharine Hepburn.) Jay Chandrasekhar of the Broken Lizard comedy team directs, and his troupe-mates all appear at one point or another. That may be why the silly stuff—like a throwaway pot gag with Willie Nelson as Uncle Jesse—works better than the rest of the film. The jokes keep tugging the new Dukes in one direction, but tradition keeps pulling it back. Instead of a goof on backwoods humor and yesterday's mindless entertainment, we end up with an inappropriately reverent recreation of it. Maybe that's protecting the brand, but is it worth it when the brand you're protecting is the entertainment equivalent of a can of Schlitz?