If only “never meanin' no harm” were the same as “never doin' no harm.” That way you could watch “The Dukes of Hazzard” and retain your current inventory of brain cells, the one part of the human anatomy that this numbing redneck farce undeniably puts in harm's way.
Not that Bo and Luke Duke — resurrected from their TV roots as a grottier, more tussled-looking duo, played by Seann William Scott (“American Pie”) and Johnny Knoxville (“Jackass”), respectively — don't rev up a few thrills and dopey, exhaust-addled laughs. These are the Dukes as reconceived by director Jay Chandrasekhar and his “Supertrooper” entourage.
Running moonshine in Bo's beloved '69 Dodge Charger for Uncle Jesse (Willie Nelson), the boys run afoul of Boss Hogg's latest scheme to suck money out of Hazzard County. Flaunting her barely clothed kibbles, cousin Daisy Duke (Jessica Simpson) breaks them out of jail (yep, that old saw).
Later, Bo and Duke lead state troopers on a backwoods, axle-snapping car chase so they can get to the courthouse in time to put the kibosh on Hogg's scheme. Bows and arrows. Stock car rallies. Cooter back at the garage. Verse, chorus, verse.
There are a few yawn-inducing lulls in the hootenanny, particularly when Bo and Duke — who have a habit of playing painful practical jokes on each other, a la Knoxville's old “Jackass” crew — take a side trip to a prominent Atlanta university to test a soil sample swiped from Boss Hogg's safe (something to do with an illicit strip-mining venture).
The trip hardly seems worth the few anemic sorority-themed gags that it affords, but it does allow screenwriter John O'Brien (“Starsky & Hutch”) to cleverly riff on the General Lee's Confederate flag paint job, which earns Bo and Luke angry glares and profanity-laced tirades from appalled big-city motorists. Except the truckers, who naturally give the flag a big thumbs up.
Hogg — originated by rotund TV actor Sorrell Booke — is played by Burt Reynolds (“Smokey and the Bandit”), who fills out Hogg's pimp-daddy plantation suit in slightly more svelte fashion than his predecessor (he also prefers a few Atkins-friendly boiled crawfish to the old Hogg's usual fatty meal of chitlins and pig feet).
Hogg appears to have successfully transferred the weight-gain process onto his lackey, Rosco P. Coltrane, played by character actor M.C. Gainey (“Breakdown”), whose performance I didn't like, if only because he never goes “A-gu-gu-gu!”
One gets the sense, while watching “The Dukes of Hazzard,” that the filmmakers did the best they could with the material they had. Playing it straight wouldn't have worked — in today's hypersensitive cultural climate, the original show seems like some weird Southern/fascist propaganda tract, with two handsome, perfectly groomed men riding
around in a muscle car emblazoned with the symbol of slavery.
Knoxville and Scott at least look like scrubs, which is more than you could say for John Schneider and Tom Wopat.
Simpson, donning history's most notorious pair of cutoffs, is a bit less credible, affecting a mangled accent that makes her sound more like Jennifer Lopez than Catherine Bach. Her tan also seems a bit off, leaving the tabloid queen to battle it out with Reynolds and the General Lee over who has the most orange paint job.
‘The Dukes of Hazzard'
Starring: Johnny Knoxville, Seann William Scott, Jessica Simpson, Willie Nelson, Burt Reynolds
Rating: PG-13 (sexual content, crude and drug-related humor, language and comic action violence) Running time: 106 min.
Playing: Opens Friday at theaters Valleywide