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Jay's 'Dukes' storm box office

By Arthur J Pais
August 08, 2005 03:45 IST
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Riding past mostly negative reviews, Jay Chandrasekhar's The Dukes of Hazzard, his first film for a major Hollywood studio, rode to the top of the North American box-office chart, grossing an estimated $30.5 million over the weekend.

The adventure comedy inspired by two-decade-old popular TV series of the same name stars Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott as the carefree and mischievous Duke Cousins who are driven to fight against a corrupt county commissioner Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds). Popular singer Jessica Simpson plays yet another Duke cousin who joins her male cousins in fighting Hogg and saving the family farm being appropriated by the commissioner and sheriff under a flimsy pretext.

'I don't really care what critics would think of my new film,' Chandrasekhar had told in an exclusive interview last week. 'We had a blast of a time making it. We haven't stopped laughing as yet, and I am sure a lot of young people are going to laugh a lot.

'We have a young high-profile cast,' he added. 'And then there are veterans such as Burt Reynolds and Willie Nelson (Uncle Duke) who are icons of the entertainment industry. And we have car chases and comedy, and Jessica Simpson in the shortest of shorts ever seen in Hollywood.'

Though the film was expected to appeal to the older viewers for nostalgic reasons, Chandrasekhar, 37, said he had made the film primarily for the younger generation. "It ought to work and appeal to anyone on its own strengths," he added. 'You don't have to know anything about the TV series at all.'

The audience for the movie, which cost $50 million, was evenly split in gender and two-thirds were under age 25, said Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros told reporters

The Dukes of Hazzard is the fourth film directed by Chandrasekhar, whose Super Troopers earned about $20 million its entire run four years ago. It was his best-known film till The Dukes..., Warner Bros road adventure, opened in 3785 theaters, one of the widest releases this summer. A handful of summer movies opened in 3800 theaters.

The success of Dukes offered some relief to Hollywood following the crash of The Island and Stealth, each costing over $100 million during the last four weeks.

The solid opening of Dukes is even more significant in that there are several other comedies, especially the durable Wedding Crashers, in the overcrowded summer market. Unlike most other summer releases that decline weekly by over 35 percent, Wedding Crashers has been coming down each week by just about 18 percent.

While USA Today gave the Chandrasekhar movie two and a half stars out of four, New York Post gave it three. And Entertainment Weekly thought it was very good lowdown fun. '...A comedy that knows just how smart to be about just how dumb it is,' wrote its critic Owen Gleiberman. The influential trade publication Variety thought the film was generally entertaining.

But some critics were furious at the film.

'There's a stink coming off the big-screen Dukes of Hazzard that even fans of the TV series won't be able to shake out of their nostrils,' wrote Peter Travis in Rolling Stone. And in Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Eleanor Ringel Gillespie wrote: 'It's every bit as bad as you thought it'd be. Only worse.'

Many films trashed by the critics click at the box-office in a big way. Wedding Crashers, which is heading for a $200 million run in North America, also had many negative reviews.

'At the end of the day, it is just another film I have made,' Chandrasekhar has mused before the movie's opening. But he was also convinced out young men and women with a streak of rebellion in them would hog the film.

Now that it has done just that the question is how fast the Dukes will run out of gas and if it will fly beyond the $100-million benchmark.

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Arthur J Pais