Every guy who grew up in the 1980s obsessed with TV has two lingering fantasies: to party with the Landers sisters, and to drive The Dukes of Hazzard's General Lee.
One down, threesome to go. I'm sitting behind the wheel of Dukes' oh-so-familiar orange '69 Dodge Charger, the skidding, leaping, tear-assing machine that made Knight Rider look like Taxi. Number 01 was as much a character on the series as the Duke cousins, who spent half of each show leaping through its windows, then swerving through dirt roads, eluding wailing cop cars, and soaring over chasms (Hazzard County was apparently the broken-bridge capital of the South). Now the General has been refueled for the Dukes movie, and as its motor idles on one of Warner Bros.' generic town-square sets, I survey the area for a bumbling sheriff to befuddle.
A voice yells, ''Okay!'' and the wheels start spinning. I grip the wheel tighter, a reflexively macho but altogether moot point, since I'm not driving. The car is attached to the Go Mobile, a race-car/trailer hybrid first developed for The Bourne Supremacy's crushing Moscow road chase: It allows actors to be put right in the action's pole position, skidding around corners at angles and speeds never before caught on film. ''There are no new car stunts,'' says Dan Bradley, Dukes' second-unit director and coinventor of the Go Mobile, ''just better ways to shoot them.''
Bradley's company, Go Stunts, is a new model of stunt group, formed about three years ago with the mission to make their name as alluring as Jerry Bruckheimer's to adrenaline-jonesing moviegoers. By inventing technology like the Go Mobile, or the rigging to improve Tobey Maguire's swinging in Spider-Man 2, Go constantly searches for new ways to make audiences feel like they're in the action.
And as the wheels finally catch and the General Lee leaps forward, I definitely feel like I'm in the action.
Car chases have vroomed across screens as early as the 1910s, when the Keystone Kops shook their batons in slapstick pursuit. Up until the '60s, actors would sit in a stationary car, wildly twisting the wheel in front of rear-projected footage of a vanishing road, or be towed by a camera car at slow speeds, and that footage would be intercut with wider shots of the cars being driven by speeding stuntmen. Then came the first modern road-thrills: '68's Bullitt and '71's The French Connection, in which Steve McQueen and Gene Hackman actually drove. Fast. But the days of stars speeding solo are now gone, thanks to union and insurance restrictions, and though bluescreens and CGI can put actors anywhere, both methods fall shy of the visceral thrill of seeing real actors on the road. ''If you're looking at a car from the outside in, you have no way to emotionally attach yourself other than 'That looks cool,''' says the Go Mobile's primary driver, Kevin Scott, who with Bradley and their two Go partners wanted a new way to pick up stars' speed.
Each member of the Go foursome has his own specialty: Bradley, who at 47 has 30 years of stunt experience, is the action mastermind. The second-unit director for Spider-Man 2, Three Kings, and Swordfish, he turns brief script notes like ''The cars race down the road'' into 10-minute tableaux of seat-squirming speed. Scott, 44, is a hairpin driver best known for manning the trucks in The Matrix Reloaded and The Fast and the Furious' spotlight chases. Scott Rogers, 38, is the rigging expert behind the Spider-Man sequel. And fighter/faller Darrin Prescott, 36, was Hugo Weaving's combat double in the last two Matrixes. Other stunt groups are like networking clubs, but when Go formed in 2002, it was as a full-service company: Under Bradley's direction, they would take over a movie's action department, devising, directing, and coordinating. ''We had ideas for stunts, and the equipment didn't exist,'' says Prescott. ''We were constantly pulling our hair out, and said, Why don't we do it ourselves?''