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Southern culture on the skids - Dukes of Hazzard?

Good ol' boys, local yokels bring stereotypes to life in Dukes of Hazzard

Where exactly is Hazzard County, Ga.? Clearly the ol' homestead of Bo and Luke Duke belongs in the South — but which South? It's not the New South, not even the Real South.

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"The Dukes of Hazzard" CBS show offered a squeaky-clean notion of the Old South, but the movie takes place closer to the Dumb South — it's more Larry the Cable Guy than Andy Griffith. It's a place of beer-can wind chimes and backyard pastimes that involve arrows and explosions. Shotgun blasts leave perfectly round, cannonball-sized holes, and doughnuts are something you do with your car, not something you eat for breakfast.

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The TV series hardly strived for sophistication, but exactly how stupid should a Dukes of Hazzard movie be? Director Jay Chandrasekhar tries to throw a boot-scootin' hoedown that never puts on airs. But you can expect precious little from a silly script based on a dopey source, with movie stars hired for kitsch factor over acting talent. The Dukes of Hazzard discovers exactly how dumb is too dumb.

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The down-home narrator spins Hazzard County as the American heartland, drawling, "Some folks say the apple pie was invented there." In that case, rampant police and government corruption are apparently as American as the Confederate flag. Moonshiners Bo (Seann William Scott) and Luke (Johnny Knoxville) mostly care about fast women and faster wheels, but they eagerly sleuth around to foil the evil schemes of Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds), the most dastardly county commissioner in pop culture.

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When the cousins road-trip to Atlanta to chase a lead, The Dukes of Hazzard shows some wit for a brief, shining moment. Bo revs their recently trashed, now freshly refurbished Dodge Charger, the boys yell "Yee haw!" and we fade out on the car roaring down a darkened road ... only to fade up on the General Lee paralyzed by bumper-to-bumper Atlanta traffic.

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The Downtown Connector provides a surprise forum for examining Southern symbolism. Bo and Luke wonder why passing rednecks shout, "The South will rise again!" while white liberals and African-Americans jeer things like, "Have fun at your Klan rally!" The Dukes soon discover that someone painted the Stars and Bars on their roof without their consent. Hazzard County might be suspiciously free of black people (except a token judge), but Bo and Luke don't want to offend anyone, despite their Southern pride. (Would that such cool heads had prevailed during the Georgia flag debate.)

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That's as thoughtful as the material gets. Mostly the film offers listless, sketch-sized encounters, including the Dukes' hijinks in an Atlanta sorority house and their lame impersonation of Japanese scientists. Hazzard County's most outlandish inhabitant, Skeev (Kevin Heffernan), specializes in selling bait and blowing stuff up. But though Skeev wears an armadillo hat and rambles on about kooky conspiracies, he never manages to say or do anything funny, proving a shadow of "King of the Hill's" Texas nutjob Dale Gribble.

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Chandrasekhar admirably tries to honor the subgenre of 1970s Southern car crash movies that inspired much of the TV show. Some of the chase scenes set a whiplash pace and the soundtrack cranks up Lynyrd Skynyrd and Southern Culture on the Skids. Apart from Jessica Simpsons' hiccupy "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'," you can't complain about the tunes.

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But the jokes feel like a watered-down, Blockbuster Video notion of Dixie raunch rather than anything authentic. When Cooter (David Koechner) revamps the General Lee, he tells Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane (an underused M.C. Gainey), "Ah'm makin' a doomsday machine and aiming it up your hiney-hole!" That tame, oddly ironic line doesn't measure up to Jackie Gleason's pungent proclamation, "Nobody makes Sheriff Buford T. Justice look like a possum's pecker!" in Smokey and the Bandit.

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The big-name actors serve little purpose beyond superficial pop culture associations. If you need a Southern icon to play the vicious-tempered, preeningly vain Boss Hogg, Reynolds doesn't exactly have to stretch. Knoxville shares the name of a Southern city and enjoys plenty of goodwill with his masochistic pranks on "Jackass," but he doesn't really give a performance, unless keeping yourself from cracking up counts as acting.

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As Daisy Duke, Simpson has a great rack and certainly tests the tensile strength of those eponymous short-shorts. But you hear better Southern accents in Kentucky Fried Chicken commercials, and though Daisy should be a girl-next-door role, Simpson wears enough beauty products to look like one of those life-sized Barbie makeover heads. Daisy reveals some feminist ideas when she gripes about playing the sex object to bail out her cousins. But if she doesn't like being ogled, why dress like a truck-stop hooker in the first place?

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Only Scott's Bo Duke conveys anything close to an inner life, although it's an exceedingly odd one. Scott gives the perpetually adolescent Bo a bouncing-off-the-walls-and-on-his-head energy that seizes on the role's off-kilter tendencies. He might hark to an Air Supply song, or quote The Usual Suspects for no good reason. Discovering that the General Lee can honk "Dixie," Bo giggles like a kid until Luke tells him to knock it off.

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Like Bo and Luke, The Dukes of Hazzard movie never "means no harm," to paraphrase the theme song. But the movie doesn't do the South any favors, either, and it traffics in the missing-toed good-ol'-boy stereotypes with scarcely a laugh to show for it. The Dukes of Hazzard tries to be a hoot and a holler, but the filmmakers only succeed in wasting time. They're just honking "Dixie."