Dukes Propels Jessica to Movie Stardom

08/08/2005 at 07:00 AM EDT

Dukes Propels Jessica to Movie Stardom
Jessica Simpson in The Dukes of Hazzard
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The General Lee – with Jessica Simpson in tow – sped to an easy victory this weekend, as the movie version of TV’s Dukes of Hazzard claimed an impressive $30.6 million at the box office, according to studio estimates Sunday.

"The combination of the cast and the name recognition of the television show combined with the sex appeal and car chases was irresistible to movie-goers," Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office-tracker Exhibitor Relations, tells the Associated Press.

Depending on how the movie fares among ticket buyers next weekend, the good ol' boy flick could spell movie stardom for Simpson, who’s scantily clad throughout her scant screen time.

A Warner Bros. spokesman acknowledged that the movie – which stars Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott as the mischievous Duke cousins – performed beyond expectations, though Dukes did have the field all to itself, being the only major studio release to open last Friday.

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Yet when it did, the critics threw mud all over it, as best summed up by a CNN headline: "Dukes of Hazzard is Roadkill."

While the New York Post (three stars out of four) and USA Today ("good ol' barnyard fun") gave the release passable marks, PEOPLE critic Leah Rozen awarded it half a star and declared the "laugh-free, woefully uninspired film version of the southern good ol' boy TV series (1979-85)" as a prime candidate for "the year's worst movie" – despite this only being August.

Rozen was not alone in her assessment. The Chicago Tribune considered Dukes "just a good ol' bomb," while Rolling Stone lamented, "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."

In Boston, the Herald labeled it "dumb on arrival," while out west the Las Vegas Review-Journal deemed it "Hazzard-ous waste." Down South Virginia's Richmond Sun-Times got downright preachy. "Unfortunately," said the paper, "silly humor inevitably means too many men being hit in the crotch and, not so inevitably, jokes about blacks and gays that are decidedly uncomfortable to watch."

On other screens, Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in The Wedding Crashers, which headed the box-office rankings last weekend after two weeks in second place, slipped back to No. 2 ($16.5 million). Johnny Depp's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory dipped to third place with $10.6 million.

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