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Jack Mathews has been a critic, reporter, columnist and movie editor for 25 years and for many of the largest circulation newspapers in the country. Before joining the Daily News in 1999, Mathews was senior film critic at Newsday, movie editor and columnist at the Los Angeles Times, senior film critic at USA Today, and senior film critic, columnist, and West Coast bureau chief for the Detroit Free Press. He's the author of "The Battle of Brazil," a book chronicling the behind-the-scenes fight between film director Terry Gilliam and Universal Pictures over the final cut of the now-classic movie "Brazil." In the late 1990s, he co-hosted "Cinema," a PBS-aired weekly television program.

Email: jmath30031@aol.com

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'Dukes' is General-Lee bad

The Dukes crash the big screen, and the result's a wreck

Jessica Simpson as Daisy in 'The Dukes of Hazzard'
Johnny Knoxville (l.) is Luke Duke and Seann William Scott is Bo Duke in the big-screen version of 'The Dukes of Hazzard.'
One Star1.5 Stars

THE DUKES OF HAZZARD. With Seann William Scott, Johnny Knoxville, Jessica Simpson, Burt Reynolds, Willie Nelson.Director: Jay Chandrasekhar(1:41). PG-13: Language,crude humor.

If the person who came up with the idea of a film version of the TV show "The Dukes of Hazzard" were caught in a bear trap, he'd chew off his foot to get free then wonder why one leg was shorter than the other.

That is to say, he might have survival skills but not much sense.

Why fans of the series would pay good money to see something they can see free in TV reruns escapes me.

Of course, you may remember the 1979-85 TV hickfest with more fondness than I. For my taste, "Smokey and the Bandit," the 1977 movie that inspired it, was enough.

You should think of the new Duke boys as the "Dumb and Dumber" of the backwoods, with Seann William Scott playing the clueless Bo Duke and Johnny Knoxville as the slightly smarter Luke.

Though its PG-13 rating allows for much cruder sex humor, the movie version of "Dukes" is nearly identical to the TV series in its corniness, in its incessant car chases and in its ogling of the posterior of cousin Daisy Duke.

As Daisy, Jessica Simpson wears even shorter short-shorts than TV's Catherine Bach did, and for one gratuitously leering scene, she goes Bach one or two better by parading in a bikini so teeny it virtually disappears in your imagination.

If the pop singer's wardrobe is meant as a distraction from her performance, it only works for a little while. Simpson is about as comfortable in front of the camera as a rabbit about to meet its fate in front of a speeding car.

(Why Paris Hilton was overlooked for this role seems almost a crime, given she has had actual farm experience in "The Simple Life.")

The movie is clearly designed with the hope that its success will assure sequels. Though it is counting on fan nostalgia, it introduces the characters as if for the first time, then puts them through their paces in a plot that conforms to the original formula: There is a long, precredit chase scene, with Bo and Luke leading the rube police through the Georgia woods in the General Lee, their orange '69 Dodge Charger.

We soon meet Uncle Jesse (Willie Nelson), who tends the family moonshine still when he's not telling bad jokes; corrupt County Commissioner Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds); his lapdog Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane (M.C. Gainey), and Cooter (David Koechner), the mechanic who keeps the General Lee running no matter how badly the boys smash it up.

The plot has to do with an auto race and a related effort by Boss Hogg to fool the citizens of Hazzard County into approving a strip-mining measure. But the real business of the film is the car chases.

The General Lee skids, slides, spins and flies overhead in long, slow-motion arcs, smashing to the ground from improbable heights and continuing on while an endless supply of police cars and red-faced cops are laid waste in its path.

Scott and Knoxville are gamers in their impossibly stupid roles, but if sequels do follow, they'll have the last laugh on their critics - they've signed on for the run. I hope Reynolds has, too. If I have to watch another one of these Southern parodies, let's do it with the master.

As for the purpose to making this movie?

Producer Bill Gerber takes credit, saying, "I was searching for a project that really captured the American spirit."

I'm going to give that some thought - as soon as I finish chewing off my foot.

Originally published on August 4, 2005

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