Friday, August 12, 2005

Fightin' The System

The girl in the box office handed me my change along with my movie ticket. As she pressed the ticket into my hand, I felt a sudden pang of guilt, as though I’d struck a devil’s bargain.

I was going to see The Dukes of Hazzard. I saw it alone, so as not to inflict suffering upon anyone else. Also, so as not to have to wait any longer to see it.

How was it?

The General Lee shines. There are only three jumps and you’ve seen bits of all of them in the trailer, but they are well done and worth seeing in context, in their entirety. The car chases are a little choppy for my taste, but fluid enough. They use a lot of cool angles to put you into the action. And the verisimilitude of actual, non-CG car stunts is priceless. These poor Dodge Chargers got beat up bad, as we see in end-credits outtakes, but it was worth it. There’s some excellent drift work, too. If the sight of the General Lee drifting all the way around an Atlanta roundabout doesn’t set your heart aflutter, I feel sorry for you. The car chases filled me with warmth and joy. The climactic one really drags on and on beyond all reason, and I was glad for it.

A few fans on the Herbie boards lamented that Herbie’s stunt and race scenes weren’t executed with this much care and devotion and visceral excitement. After seeing the movie, I can see why.

The General Lee's doors have handles,* yes, but they don’t open for most of the movie. Here it’s explained that the doors were the one thing Cooter didn’t have time to fix when retooling the car. Eh, whatever.

The rest of the movie is exactly as stupid as you expect. It’s not funny at all, but it’s often hard to tell if it’s even supposed to be. The jokes don’t fall flat because, near as I can tell, there really aren’t any.

Is it a joke when people enter a room where other people are smoking marijuana, and later they come out of the room apparently having partaken in said marijuana? Does that count as comedy? It’s more just kind of an incident, isn’t it? It’s not like anything funny happens as a result of anyone being high. The marijuana is simply smoked, and that’s that, and if you happen to enjoy marijuana yourself, you may register a mental “Right on!” But it’s not worth a laugh.

Take the trailer moment where Bo greets the girl from Australia by crying out something about a shrimp on a barbie. Her Australianness is never mentioned again. Is it just there for this joke? First of all, the line is straight from Dumb and Dumber. Second of all, in Dumb and Dumber, the joke was that Lloyd was confusing Australia with Austria. The same line, stripped of the actual joke, is here reduced to an awkward non-sequitur made even less funny because it is ripped from another movie.

Admittedly, there are maybe a few chuckle-worthy moments that seem almost accidental, but most of the comedy is delivered with a leaden lack of timing that’s a blessing in disguise. It means that even though the joke just lies there, no one really notices it.

Oh, the sexiness. Yes, it’s out of keeping with the TV show, but I’ve come to accept it and I didn’t care about the characters much to begin with. I choose to approach the movie as the Broken Lizard cover of The Dukes of Hazzard, with all that connotes.

I hope we can all agree that Jessica Simpson has a funny-looking fake face on top of an admittedly shapely body, and that the sum of her parts lies somewhere between utter blandness and mild disgust. The college girls that Bo and Luke pick up in Atlanta are cuter, but they suffer from the syndrome of being disposable female characters in a lowbrow comedy.

In other words, if you’re a girl in this movie, your purpose in life is to giggle when strange men walk in on you in your underwear, constantly bare your midriff and cleavage, and generally behave in a manner that suggests you’re just biding time until the nearest guy gets around to fucking you. I’m not saying girls in movies shouldn’t be sexy. I’m just saying they should have a shred of a personality beyond acting like they’re in a porn movie or else it makes me feel dirty and sad. As long as they do that much, I’m fine with the scantily-clad aspects.

Boss Hogg and Roscoe are made to be more sinister and less comedic. Ehh. Seeing Roscoe all evil-like is certainly jarring, but I never found the Hogg/Roscoe stuff all that funny when I was five, so I don’t miss it here. I would probably find it funnier now due to its camp value, but I can do without seeing current actors camp it up on purpose. I read something where Jay Chandrasekhar explains how they had to up the stakes for the movie or something and I guess that’s why they’re more evil. I guess it’s good enough for me.

I don’t recognize the Broken Lizard guys enough to pick out all the cameos, but I can guess. It seems like they’re the ones who act badly and don’t fit the rest of the movie. The worst is a rival race driver who is dull and unfunny and the least credible southerner on screen.

So the movie is completely dumb, which is obvious to anyone, but it’s really just a frame because car chases, like martial-arts scenes, need a dramatic context to make them fun, even if that context is a stupid one. And the car chases are quality.

Speaking of martial-arts, there’s also a car bit where Bo spins the General Lee’s wheels to fling gravel at police, which is a steal from the terrific car chase in Jackie Chan’s Who Am I? Maybe intentional, maybe not, but unoriginality aside, it made me smile.

*UPDATE 8/14: I have since realized that the General Lee has always had door handles, even on the TV show when the doors were welded shut. My memories deceived me.


Steve F said...

I haven't seen the movie, but from the trailier I got the impression that the recipe for the movie was as follows:

1. Get some random MTV doofuses who can't act to do a hideously awful imitation of the characters people loved.

2. Ignore everything that made people fans of the original

3. Instead do a kitschy self-aware hammed up pseudo-episode whose entire plot, theme, and characters could be summed up with the belief that the early 80s were stupid because today's teenagers weren't born then, and therefore, anyone who actually *liked* the show must be a moron.

I was never a Dukes fan, but I'm worried about the A-Team movie that's allegedly coming next year.

C said...

I've been waiting a long time for this review.-- good to know the door doesn't always work. Jumping through the window is the only thing I remember from the show.

btw, herbie is in his second week at the $3 theater.

Kenny said...

1. Get some random MTV doofuses who can't act to do a hideously awful imitation of the characters people loved.

Jessica Simpson is an abomination (in general, not just in this movie), but I thought SWS and Knoxville were fine in their roles. No one much bothers to imitate anyone from the old show, though, aside from doing a southern accent.

2. Ignore everything that made people fans of the original

Only insofar as characters and tone. The one thing they didn't ignore was the car and the car chases. As I said, they do a great job with these, which were a significant reason for liking the original. The characters are of course complete betrayals, which is why serious Dukes fans hate the movie and people who are fans of car movies but not the Dukes specifically, like me and the people on the Herbie boards, think it is okay.

3. Instead do a kitschy self-aware hammed up pseudo-episode whose entire plot, theme, and characters could be summed up with the belief that the early 80s were stupid because today's teenagers weren't born then, and therefore, anyone who actually *liked* the show must be a moron.

This movie is not really smart enough to be self-aware and not particularly hammed-up. The kitschiness may be unavoidable. There are little touches of self-awareness, but for the most part it avoids hip, knowing irony for straight-ahead dumbness.

The insult of the movie is not so much that the '80s were dumb (indeed, the original show was dumb itself), it's that making a movie contemporary for the '00s means corrupting it with sex, drugs and dirty words because people won't like it otherwise.

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