'Dukes' A Cornball Throwback; 'Broken Flowers' A Lifelike Mystery, By Kurt Loder

Jessica Simpson and Bill Murray are both -- in very different ways -- barely there.

"The Dukes of Hazzard": Crashing Bumpkins

If you're a devoted fan of the old "Dukes of Hazzard" TV series ... well, I probably don't know you. But you'll likely want to see this movie just to find out if it's a travesty of your beloved show. I'm not sure how you'd go about travestying a cornpone wheeze like "Dukes," but possibly you'll lament the fact that the late Waylon Jennings isn't around to narrate, and to sing his "Dukes" theme song, "Good Ol' Boys." (The song does get sung, though, by Waylon's ol' pard', Willie Nelson; that's something.) And quite possibly you'll resent the fact that the character of Luke Duke is now played by the guy from "Jackass." I feel for you.

Fans of Jessica Simpson will surely want to see how she does in the old Catherine Bach role of sexy Daisy Duke. She does fine, as far as it goes. The fans should be advised, though, that there's not all that much of her in this movie. Oh, her cleavage goes cruising by from time to time, and she does bust out a bikini briefly, which'll be a thrill for anyone who's never seen a famous babe in a bikini before. But basically, Daisy is a peripheral character. Just so you know.

"The Dukes of Hazzard," the TV series, ran on CBS from 1979 to 1985 and then joined the army of the undead in syndication, where it has wobbled about ever since. The movie, like the series, is set in fictitious Hazzard County, Georgia, and celebrates the exploits of two hell-raisin' cousins, Luke and Bo Duke (gamely played by Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott), who are "as restless as two cats thrown into a swimmin' hole." Tearing around the county in their 1969 Dodge Charger, known as the General Lee, the boys run moonshine for their Uncle Jesse (Willie Nelson, reduced here to uttering backwoodsy one-liners), and do their best to evade the bumbling county sheriff, Roscoe P. Coltrane (M.C. Gainey). Roscoe is the clueless stooge of corrupt county commissioner Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds), a man who's said to be "as crooked as a hillbilly's smile." He sure do hate them Duke boys.

The plot concerns Hogg's scheme to buy up all the land in Hazzard County and sell it to strip-miners. The Duke boys aren't about to let this happen. That's the plot. Along the way, we see lots of cars flying through the air (a big deal in the old TV series, apparently, but by now we've seen it, thank you) and one so-so bar fight. (Which got me wondering: If there are bars in Hazzard County where you can get legally snockered, why is there a need for bootleg likker?) We also get to see Bo and Luke impersonate a pair of Japanese engineers, which is about as hilarious as it sounds. ("We converted," they explain.) And we get to hear one cracker wit say, in regard to Daisy, "All I'm tryin' to ask ya is, do you shuck her corn?" Which is right up there with Daisy herself, in a moment of vehicular distress, saying, "I think something bounced up into my undercarriage."

I don't know what fans of the old "Dukes of Hazzard" TV show are going to make of all this; or, God knows, fans of Jessica Simpson. Fans of neither will surely wonder what they're doing watching this movie. But then they won't be, will they?

"Broken Flowers": All's Quiet

In Jim Jarmusch's new movie, Bill Murray plays Don, a man becalmed. As the picture opens, he's sitting in his dimly lit living room in deadpan silence, staring at the television and waiting for his latest girlfriend, Sherry (Julie Delpy), to walk out on him. "I just don't want to be with an over-the-hill Don Juan," she says, pausing at the front door with her belongings. She stoops down to pick up some mail that's come through the slot and notices a letter in a pink envelope. "Probably one of your girlfriends," she says. Then she's gone.

Actually, the letter, written on pink stationery and unsigned, is from an old girlfriend. It conveys the out-of-the-blue message that the writer, unbeknown to Don, bore his son after they'd parted, and that the boy, now 19, has set out on a mission to find his father. Don takes this letter to his neighbor, Winston (Jeffrey Wright), a detective-story buff, and Winston sees it as a challenge. "You need to treat this as a sign," he tells Don, "of the direction of your life."

Winston presses Don for the names of all the girls he was involved with 20 years ago. Then he looks them up on the Internet to find out where they live, and sets up an itinerary, complete with maps and motel reservations, for Don to go visit each of them and determine which one wrote the letter. Don, a man as purposeless as a piece of driftwood, glumly agrees to go. Winston tells him to keep an eye out for all things pink.

In the Jarmuschian manner, "Broken Flowers" is a movie concerned less with narrative than with incident -- odd little moments that unexpectedly illuminate the random texture of real life. Don's first visit is to the unassuming home of Laura (Sharon Stone). He is greeted at the door by her exuberantly nubile daughter, Lolita (Alexis Dziena), who's wearing a short pink bathrobe. Mom's not back yet, so Lola plays hostette.

"Do you want something?" she asks. "We have popsicles."

Soon Laura returns, and Don delicately inquires what path her life has taken. She explains that she's a widow, and now works as "a professional closet-organizer." She doesn't seem to be the woman he's looking for, and the next day, after an old-times-sake sleepover, he gets back in his rental car and moves on to the next one on the list.

This is Dora (Frances Conroy, of "Six Feet Under"), Don's one-time hippie-chick lover. Dora lives in an expensive, sterile house with a painting of pink flowers on the living room wall. She and her suspicious husband (Christopher McDonald) are in real estate -- although, as Dora tells Don, in what passes for an assertive moment, "I was thinking of going into bottled water. I think in the future, water will be worth more than oil or gold." Dora's not the one, either, Don concludes, and after a very tense dinner with the two of them, he hits the road again.

Ex-girlfriend number three is Carmen (Jessica Lange), who now works with distressed pets as a "communicator." She says she can hear what animals are thinking, and that she inherited this gift from her now-departed dog. There appears to be something going on between Carmen and her receptionist (Chloe Sevigny), but Don doesn't stick around to find out exactly what it is. Despite another sighting of pink, he doubts that Carmen is the mother of his alleged child, either.

His final visit is to Penny (Tilda Swinton), who has apparently become a biker mama and lives in a shack in the woods. Don's relationship with Penny must have ended bitterly -- when he knocks on her door, and she opens up and sees him standing on her porch, she comes out and angrily pushes him off of it. He spots a pink typewriter lying in the weeds nearby, but that's about the last thing he sees -- two bikers come and urge him in the strongest possible terms to be on his way.

Back home again, Don has lunch at a diner with Winston, who's puzzled by his failure to find the woman who wrote the letter. Or did he find her? Looking out the diner window, Don sees a young man with a knapsack. There's a small pink ribbon tied to it. He realizes he's seen the boy before, at the rental car lot. Could it be ...?

"Broken Flowers," like life itself, doesn't provide a lot of answers. But it draws you in and it involves you in this eccentric story. And the lead actresses -- especially Stone, Lange and the lovably brazen Dziena -- each bring a welcome charge of off-kilter energy to the picture. Murray has never been more inward and unanimated -- his breezeless performance here makes the character he played in "Lost in Translation" seem altogether devil-may-care. He's so listlessly marooned in his alienation that even the slightest twitch of personality -- rolling his eyes up as if in search of an explanation from God that is never forthcoming -- has the force of a tectonic shift. It's a deeply chilled-out performance, and you can't help but hope that Murray will someday return to at least slightly livelier roles. (He's taken this sort of thing about as far as it can go, hasn't he?) But it's not quite like anything you've seen before, either, even from him. Like the rest of the movie, it's worth seeing.

--Kurt Loder

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