Warner Bros. has released a plain-wrap two-disc, two-movie collection, The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion! & Hazzard in Hollywood that might be of interest to fans of the original TV series (of which I count myself a member in good standing). 1997's The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion! is a silly little trifle that somewhat approximates the feel of the original show. The Dukes of Hazzard: Hazzard in Hollywood, though, is a misfire from the get-go, and a real downer for fans. As far as I can tell, these made-for-TV movies have never been out on DVD before, so die-hard enthusiasts of the show will probably want to check them out to complete their Duke collection. Let's look at the individual films.
THE DUKES OF HAZZARD: REUNION!
Seems Uncle Jesse Duke (Denver Pyle) is none too popular with folks around Hazzard County nowadays. A big city developer, Josephine "Mama Jo" Max (Stella Stevens) wants to turn the Hazzard swamp into a theme park - something the cash-starved, job-scarce Hazzard would welcome - but the only way to get to the swamp is over the Duke farm. And Uncle Jesse isn't having any of that. No sir. Uncle Jesse knows the swamp has been home to all kinds of critters for eons, and he wants to preserve it.
Hoping to get some kinfolk back into Hazzard for moral support, Uncle Jesse asks his beloved nephews and niece to come back for the annual rattlesnake chili cook-off. Bo (John Schneider) is now a NASCAR driver; Luke (Tom Wopat), is a smoke jumper for the Forestry Department, and Daisy (Catherine Bach) is studying to get her PhD in Ecology (she's particularly keen to keep the swamp preserved from development). With the gang back in tow, Uncle Jesse feels safe in accepting Boss Rosco P. Coltrane's (James Best) offer - engineered by Mama Jo who's bought off Rosco - of a overland moonshine race. If the Dukes win it (if they can find the disappeared General Lee), they get a thousand dollars and the right to block the theme park development; if Boss Rosco wins (via a driver provided by Mama), the swamp is history. Of course, with all those crooks involved, the race has to be fixed somehow, but luckily, Enos (Sonny Shroyer), now a detective for the LAPD, is back in town to help - and on the make for Daisy yet again.
Reunion shows for beloved TV series are always dangerous territory for viewers because no matter how hard the producers try to regain that certain something from the original, the films invariably falls short somehow. If it's not a dashed-off, unfocused script by producers who think that just getting the old actors together on the same sets will equal ratings, it's the fact that the actors - through obviously no fault of their own - are older, and they don't fit in with viewers' happy memories of them from 10 or 15 years before, where they stay forever young in reruns. Helpfully "updating" characters or situations annoys viewers, while keeping everything exactly the same runs the risk of making the series' original set-up look quaint or tired after so many years have passed and times having changed. Having said that, The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion! can't quite avoid some of these inevitable pitfalls. It's sunny enough, and moves relatively quickly. But the spark is gone (or perhaps more accurately, our spark, what we were when we watched the show - kids, mostly - is gone), so the nostalgia is mixed with a tad of regret.
The original The Dukes of Hazzard relied on creating an insular, cartoonish, fantasy world filled with buxom country honeys and horny good 'ole boys runnin' 'shine, evading the law while smashing up their cars. Samuel Beckett is wasn't, but for what it was, it made sense within its own fantasy rules, and it entertained. But with a show so dependant on creating a never-never world like Hazzard county, the minute you take it out of its original context - for example, by simply revisiting the concept 12 years later, when everyone, including the viewer, is older - the magic just isn't there. It doesn't help, right out of the gate, that The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion! starts off with a different theme song (for whatever reason, Waylon Jennings' original wasn't used), making the viewer momentarily stop and wonder what they're watching - particularly since that Jennings theme song is so ingrained in the original Dukes experience.
Once the show gets rolling, it doesn't do a bad job of recreating, somewhat, the Hazzard of old, but there's no denying that the loss of Sorrell Booke (who had died in 1994) impacts the franchise greatly. Any comic fantasy like Dukes of Hazzard needs a larger-than-life villain, and the classically trained Booke was terrific as the grossly overplayed Boss Hogg. Stevens, an underrated actor during her peak popularity years, tries hard as Mama Jo, but her character is so sketchily laid out, that even her funny bits with Bach fall largely flat (she bonds with Daisy to the point of planning her wedding to Enos, despite that fact that she kidnapped her). Without Booke, James Best's shtick as Rosco P. Coltrane (now elevated to taking the Boss' place) has nothing to bounce off of; it feels forced and rather lonely. We're left with a scene with Best, almost crying over a portrait of Boss Hogg. I don't want to see that in a Dukes reunion film.
The rest of the cast fares better. Eternally young, cheerful Schneider doesn't look a day older than he did when he jumped into the General Lee the last time back in the 80s, but Wopat, still fit and tough-looking, seems alternately distant or grumpy (Wopat was known to dislike the whole Dukes phenomenon impacting the rest of his acting career). Catherine Bach doesn't get into a pair of her eponymously-monikered, iconic shorts (another inevitable concession to time I'd rather not ponder - especially considering the impact the devastating Bach had on me back as a pre-teen), while the wonderful Denver Pyle is visibly ill and failing (he would die later that same year the movie was shot). The introduction of new characters Bertha Jo (Cynthia Rothrock) and Bubba (Travis McKenna) does absolutely nothing for the Hazzard mythos, while returning characters Enos, Cooter (Ben Jones) and Cletus (Rick Hurst) aren't given a whole lot to do (Enos in particular is screwed when the filmmakers pull a switch at the end and deny him a wedding night with long-lusted after Daisy). As for the action, it's not plentiful enough, either, to compare with the earlier TV series. A couple of tentative car chases, a bar fight, and one good General Lee jump is about it. The rest is much noise and chaotic plotting, and very little of the cartoonish energy that was so prevalent in the first go-around.
THE DUKES OF HAZZARD: HAZZARD IN HOLLYWOOD
A grim, unasked-for follow-up to the first reunion film, The Dukes of Hazzard: Hazzard in Hollywood makes the huge mistake of taking place outside the mythical bounds of that fabled moonshinin' county. A challenge by former Boss Hogg confidante Ezra Bushmaster (Nicolas Coster) for the county to raise 500,000 dollars to help fund a county hospital spurs the Dukes into action. Patch (Keith Brunsmann), another shady Hazzard hustler has a brilliant idea: take all the tapes of the various artists who have performed at the annual Hazzard County Hospital Fair and sell them to a record company. Bo and Luke take the tapes to Hollywood, and immediately fall in with various nefarious characters, including the Russian mob, a beautiful Asian loan shark, an even more beautiful Hispanic love interest, Gabriela (Patricia Manterola) for Bo, and a returning love, singer Anita Blackwood (Anita Cochran), for Luke. It all ends rather noisely.
Junk from minute one, The Dukes of Hazzard: Hazzard in Hollywood makes the cardinal mistake of taking the sweet, fun-loving, essentially innocent make-believe characters of Hazzard, and plopping them down in the middle of the mean streets of L.A. Why anyone involved with this project felt that Dukes fans would want to see this dose of reality splashed on the Dukes is anybody's guess, but it fails miserably here. After seeing Enos being portrayed as some kind of Dirty Harry crossed with James Bond (women are falling all over him), Daisy inexplicably becoming a stunt woman, and the Duke boys attending a block party that looks like something out of Cops, I had to wonder what the hell any of this had to do with the Hazzard County I loved. Uncle Jesse, sadly, is gone, but the filmmakers pull something out of the cinematic hope chest that I haven't seen since those old WWII movies: a superimposition of Jesse's visage, ascending to the clouds. It's as tasteless as it's ridiculous - which pretty much sums up the dreary, unnecessary The Dukes of Hazzard: Hazzard in Hollywood.
Both films from the The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion! & Hazzard in Hollywood collection are presented in surprisingly good full-frame, 1.33:1 video transfers; color is nicely balanced, and the picture is generally sharp - if sometimes grainy or somewhat scratched. I did notice some minor ghosting at times, as well as edge enhancement, but nothing too distracting.
Both films from the The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion! & Hazzard in Hollywood are presented in adequate Dolby Digital English 2.0 stereo mixes, with acceptable loudness levels but not much speaker action. English, French, Spanish and Portugese subtitles are available.
There are no extras for The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion! & Hazzard in Hollywood, which certainly would have helped some make this DVD purchase.
Definitely a mixed bag, The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion! & Hazzard in Hollywood's appeal will most likely depend on your level of Dukes mania: dyed-in-the-wool fans will no doubt eagerly snatch it up, while the uninitiated will ask what all the fuss is about. I can't say I was impressed, and I'm a gen-you-wine fan of the series, so I'm going to suggest, at the most, a rental for the two-disc The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion! & Hazzard in Hollywood two movie collection.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.