‘The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning’ (2007): Fun take on TV classic aims to please y’all

Now, what I originally wanted to write about 2007’s direct-to-video prequel, The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning (Unrated)―that it’s a perfect movie for a 14-year-old male…or any arrested-development guy, for that matter―sadly doesn’t apply any more, most likely.

By Paul Mavis

If I write today that The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning (Unrated) offers up every single ingredient deemed necessary, by the average high school freshman, for a killer DVD―naked girls, plenty of drinking, sniggering jokes about said naked girls and drinking, stuff blowing up real good, a souped-up muscle car, and lots more naked girls―I’m not sure how many of today’s frosh out there would agree, more’s the pity. After the self-righteous, self-hating number schools and social media have done on their heads these past 15 years, those poor deluded bastards probably agree with the new jack-booted liberal Puritans that this kind of unpretentious, bawdy entertainment is wrong.

We’ve come way down in the last fifteen years, people. Still…you can go back, courtesy of the magic of DVDs, until the pendulum swings back (don’t trust streaming―they stealth edit for “your own good”). A delightful surprise of horny redneck hijinks, gorgeous naked girls, smart, funny jokes, and an unashamed, earthy willingness to simply please, The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning (Unrated) is a worthwhile return to that fictional Southern Hazzard County. Like Li’l Abner on crank, The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning (Unrated) features sexed-up Hee-Haw Honeys and horny good ol’ boy studs in an energetically raunchy, but ultimately innocent sex-and-speed Southern farce that goes down as easy as a Mason jar full of two-day-old ‘shine. Aiming low, The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning (Unrated) hits way high.

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When the original The Dukes of Hazzard aired on the CBS network way back when I was in high school, it was an admittedly goofy, Looney Tunes-tempoed farce that no one took seriously at all (nor did anyone think was in any way racist, including its large black fan base). It absolutely cleaned up in the Nielsen ratings. It was innocent, cartoon viewing, suitable for the whole family: no one was killed, the General Lee jumped three houses a week, the ‘shine running was kept to a minimum, and Daisy never got nekkid (dang it!). Unfortunately, in 2005, a horrendous big-screen version of the series debuted, prompting a lot of unhappy alumni of the TV show into rightly stating the big screen version was an assault on the legacy of the family-friendly Dukes―a stance, I suspect, that had a lot more to do with the movie’s total failure as a comedy, rather than its more adult tone.

The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning (Unrated) certainly isn’t network TV friendly…but it’s essentially harmless stuff. Produced by Warner Bros.’ then-new direct-to-TV unit, Warner Premiere (which is now defunct), and first released, believe it or not, to Disney’s ABC Family channel on March 4, 2007, an “R”-rated and this unrated edition were subsequently released on DVD. Not unlike the original TV series, the same sense of fun and farce permeates The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning (Unrated). The only difference is this unrated version ups the ante and provides a few of the relatively chaste fantasies you prayed might show up on the TV show…but sadly, never did.

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The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning (Unrated) reboots the mythology of the TV series, and starts with the ne’er-do-well cousins’ first meeting. Bo Duke (Jonathan Bennett), the not-so-bright blonde one, and Luke Duke (Randy Wayne), the brunette who likes to blow things up, are sent by their parents to Hazzard County to live with their Uncle Jesse Duke (Willie Nelson), in the hopes that a summer of hard farm work will straighten out the rowdy youths. Uncle Jessie, a barely settled down moonshiner, still keeps a still hidden on his farm, and runs his hooch to keep paying the bills―which are quickly outstripping his slow-downed, one-man operation. Living with Uncle Jessie is Bo’s and Luke’s cousin, Daisy Duke (April Scott), a sweet, virginal Bible-studying beauty hidden behind glasses and frumpy clothes.

Conflict enters this happy extended family when Boss Hogg (the absolutely hilarious Christopher McDonald), the power behind Hazzard County, demands that Uncle Jessie start kicking back 25% of his ‘shine profits, in exchange for expanding Uncle Jessie’s operation into other counties. Uncle Jessie, not wanting any trouble with the Revenuers, refuses Boss Hogg’s offer, whereupon Boss Hogg threatens to foreclose on Uncle Jessie’s farm. Not wanting to lose the Duke family farm, Uncle Jessie reluctantly allows Bo and Luke to help him out by running his ‘shine.

But first, the boys have to find a fast car. A chance trip to a popular swimming hole (which just happens to have two beautiful blonde nude sunbathers there), finds a submerged ’69 Dodge Charger at the bottom of the hole. With the help of high school senior (fourth year at that grade level and still counting…) and master shop student Cooter (Joel David Moore), the rusted out mess is transformed into the sweetest, meanest ‘shine runner in the county. With a bright orange paint job and a Confederate flag on top (your damn right it does), the car is christened the General Lee, and the boys are in business.

Daisy wishes to help out, too, and promptly transforms herself into the hottest babe in Hazzard County to work at the Boar’s Nest, Boss Hogg’s bar-turned-ice cream parlor. But the manager Hughie (Todd Grinnell), who Daisy loves, is in league with Boss Hogg, and with the help of seriously screwed-up Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane (the equally hilarious Harland Williams), Boss Hogg is bearing down on the Dukes something fierce. With a potential helper in Boss Hogg’s oversexed wife Lulu (Sherilyn Fenn), the Duke boys have precious little time to get Uncle Jessie out of hot water.

Not expecting anything other than a cheap knock-off, the first time I watched The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning (Unrated), I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it. There’s an unabashed, ballsy celebration of the crude and low here that’s balanced by a light, goofy innocence that I found infectious. Director Robert Berlinger, a TV sitcom veteran (who deserved to break out to bigger things after this charmer) and first time scripter Shane Morris, have the tone of high-spirited adolescent hijinks locked down tight. There’s quite a few very sharp, amusing lines in the script, as well as many fun moments that deliver earthy, raucous jolts, expertly balanced to stay on just this side of innocence.

A good example: there’s a moment where Bo and Luke decide to ride an ATV through the local high school (don’t ask why), and the narrator (Gary Cole―perfection) stops the action to remind everyone that this scene will show you the viewer why we live in the greatest country in the world, whereupon the Dukes bust through the girl’s locker room where a bevy of smoking hot naked girls run around screaming. It’s a juvenile moment to be sure, but it’s so blatant and open an opportunity to titillate the audience, that you can’t help but admire it. It helps, too, that The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning (Unrated) looks so good, with crystal-clear, bright, sunny cinematography by Roy Wagner, fun music cues by John DeFaria, and some clever directorial flourishes by Berlinger.

The acting in The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning (Unrated) is above par for these kind of outings, as well. Bennett and Wayne do nicely with their jacked-up Southern horn dog characters, with Bennett especially funny in the physical comedy scenes. Scott pulls off the tricky work of making Daisy Duke at the same time hot as hell and virginally sweet, while filling out her “Daisy Dukes” most memorably…and there’s nothing wrong with that. Moore is great as the squirrely Cooter, and Willie Nelson is perfectly cast as the tolerant old moonshiner Uncle Jessie.

Harland Williams is, as always, quite hilarious as the famed Rosco P. Coltrane (you can tell he was ad-libbing off the map), and Christopher McDonald, one of my favorite character actors, sinks his teeth into the Boss Hogg role with abandon, and brings a nice, crazy glint to his eyes when he’s spouting off about burying the Dukes. And a special mention must go out to the Handy girls, bless their hearts, Brooke (Jennifer Hill) and Ali (Trishelle Cannatella), who hook up with the clueless Duke boys. Cannatella, American reality television contestant, Playboy model, actress, and world-class poker player (my gawd son now that’s a woman!) in particular is, um…outstanding.

Things get a bit thick during the end of The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning (Unrated)‘s middle section, when the director and screenwriter lose faith in their exploitation-only methodology, and let the mechanics of the slight plot play out. As a result, the movie doesn’t quite recover it’s anything-for-a-laugh momentum. Still…there are enough horny, jacked-up pleasures throughout The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning (Unrated) to keep a smile on your face when the credits roll, with some great outtakes, particularly by Harland Williams, for added measure. It looks like everybody had as good a time making The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning (Unrated), as we do watching it.


Read more of Paul’s film reviews here. Read Paul’s TV reviews at our sister website, Drunk TV.

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