*/**** Image B- Sound A Extras D
starring Jonathan Bennett, Randy Wayne, April Scott, Christopher McDonald
written by Shane Morris
directed by Robert Berlinger
by Ian Pugh Jay Chandrasekhar's The Dukes of Hazzard is not one of the worst movies ever made, but it's almost certainly one of the most depressing. As it essentially amounts to an episode of the eponymous television series given to brief flashes of self-awareness, it reveals itself as a Beckett-esque nightmare in which the characters have been granted a dim perception that they're trapped in a world of hate and marginalization (particularly in regards to Daisy's contemplation of her uselessness except as eye candy) with no means of escape. In the hands of television hack Robert Berlinger, The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning (hereafter Dukes 2) is a loose prequel to some hybrid of the movie/TV franchise that jettisons Chandrasekhar's brushes with the fourth wall in favour of an "ignorance is bliss" policy that ends up being only marginally less depressing. The film encompasses the story of how teenaged cousins Bo (Jonathan Bennett) and Luke Duke (Randy Wayne) left a promising future of generic juvenile delinquency, cobbled together The General Lee, popped their cherries, and found themselves in a never-ending cycle of car chases and frat-boy leering. Never mind that "The Dukes of Hazzard" rarely bothered to rationalize its own exploitation of those small-screen vices--the prequel applies more of the same and seems to promise countless adventures to come, but really it just represents an entry point into that oppressive, infinite loop. It's a moment of stark inevitability comparable to another, similarly-titled prequel (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) and its sad march into the void of madness.
Perhaps more appropriately titled "Hazzard Babies", Dukes 2 also saddles us with the expectation for laughs in recognizing familiar elements of this younger "Dukes" universe: recently-elected sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane (Harland Williams) holds his six-shooter in one hand and his puppy in the other; mechanic Cooter (Joel Moore) is a redneck jerk-off tinkering with go-carts in shop class; and Boss Hogg (Christopher McDonald) builds up his political ambitions and attempts to corner the market on moonshine. Daisy Duke (April Scott, "Model #14" on "Deal or No Deal"), meanwhile, comes to us as a dowdy churchgoer-cum-librarian who discovers her inner sexpot in a pair of cut-off jeans and finds her purpose as a diversionary tactic, a weapon used against horny old men in the service of horny young men. In that sense, she becomes ingrained in Hazzard County's female community--though not all of the women there are merely objectified, as demonstrated by Boss Hogg's sex-deprived wife Lulu (Sherilyn Fenn), who attempts to seduce Luke with unrelenting fervour as the jolly narrator informs us that she is "in heat" and "mentally deranged." If it's a fairly reprehensible double-standard, I don't believe that the film actively despises female sexuality so much as it expresses surprise and fear upon learning that such a thing exists parallel to male pleasure--a mentality certainly shared by the selfish, pubescent audience that would consider Dukes 2's barely-PG-13 antics entertaining. You can call it misogynistic, I guess, but more to the point you should probably just tell everyone involved to grow the fuck up. The film does, however, deliver a possibly-not-accidentally clever comment about its own lack of consequence as Daisy, bound by an oath of chastity, enjoys a post-coital moment with a fly-by-night beau (Todd Grinnell) after an apparent night of dry-humping. (Clothes are haphazardly strewn about and yet everyone is still fully dressed.)
Indeed, the movie is one great big teenage dry-hump, a halfhearted stab at high-concept titillation that doesn't dare cross an invisible barrier into anything penetrative. We received the "unrated" version of Dukes 2 for review, and with a few bare breasts serving as the differential, the seams that separate the rated and unrated versions of Dukes 2 are more obvious than most, effectively throwing the repressed nature of the enterprise into sharper relief. Omit the tits and bleep out the "shit"s and you're left with something so sanitized that of course it appeared on ABC Family before hitting the shelves of Blockbuster. It's almost too tempting to give this kind of shit a pass on the virtue that it's so utterly forgettable and ends relatively quickly (a mentality forever destroyed in my mind thanks to an exploration of the deep canyon between the commensurately short Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and Ratatouille), while defenders of the original "Dukes" will use words like "harmless" and "innocent" to illustrate the TV series' superiority over the films that bear its name. But those arguments simply enforce the fundamental puerility of the property as a whole--a who-cares proposition that's more offensive in its childish, sanitized ignorance than it ever was in its presentation of the Confederate flag.
The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning arrives on DVD courtesy of Warner's Premiere division in competing R-rated (how?) and unrated editions, which in turn are both sold separately in widescreen and fullscreen editions. The widescreen edition's 1.78:1 image is soupy but watchable, a common trait with quite a few other direct-to-TV/DVD features; conversely, the Dolby 5.1 audio is powerful and nuanced, picking up a surprising amount of detail in Hazzard County's rural attractions of buzzing flies and roaring motors. Headlining the Special Features menu, "Hazzardous County Featurettes Gallery" (32 mins. in toto) more or less amounts to one documentary with the option to play its individual segments, um, individually. The first featurette ("The New Dukes") makes for a reliable litmus test to determine your tolerance of the "Dukes" franchise: the actors tell the story of the film in character, taking time out to punch each other in the crotch and refer to breasts as "funbags." The rest of it is "genuine" documentary fare, thrown at you in three-minute bursts: April Scott struggles to explain the complexities of her character beyond objectification as everyone else objectifies her ("Daisy's Dukes"); Berlinger expresses self-satisfaction in his chance to tell the origin story of the familiar '69 Dodge Charger ('Birth of The General Lee"); the cast and crew erect a shrine to Willie Nelson ("A Moment with Uncle Jesse"); Harland Williams tries too hard to be funny ("Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane"); the puppet wranglers joke around with some ungodly pig creation ("Dainty Hogg"); and the Duke boys prepare for their execrable "Bosom Buddies" interlude ("Dukes in Drag").
All of it amounts to one of the most easily-ignorable half-hours imaginable, the lone moment of interest being Williams's endearing confession that he only watched the original "Dukes of Hazzard" during commercial breaks from "The Incredible Hulk". "The Music of Hazzard - Featuring Cowboy Troy & John Anderson's Duke Boys Swingin'" (3 mins.) is a music video showcasing some terrible hillbilly/rap combo--the term "music video" used here in the loosest interpretation, as this is more of an indiscriminate mishmash of footage from the film and documentaries combined with footage of the song's studio recording. The film's trailer finishes off the supplementary material; DVD trailers for "The Dukes of Hazzard" television series, Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, and Undisputed II: Last Man Standing cue up on startup. Originally published: July 12, 2007.