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- Movie: Jonah Hex
- Rating: PG-13
- Running Time: 1 hrs. 21 min.
- Starring: Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Megan Fox, Michael Shannon, Michael Fassbender, Will Arnett, Aidan Quinn and Wes Bentley
- Written By: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor, William Farmer,
- Directed By: Jimmy Hayward
- Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
- Series: Jonah Hex
JONAH HEX Movie Review
Not In The Face! Not In The Face!
By Rob Vaux
June 18, 2010
I wonder at which point in the production Jonah Hex went so wildly wrong. Certainly not with the hiring of Josh Brolin, who alone among the principle creative forces seems to really understand the character. But whatever the problems were--whether it was replacing directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor with animation journeyman Jimmy Hayward, or some similar bit of Hollywood “magic”--they came early enough to sabotage the entire affair. The resulting film speaks to a desperate patch job in an effort to deliver something--anything--watchable before being thrown to the summer wolves in the middle of June. It runs a sparse 76 minutes if you don’t include the credits… every one of them a jumbled, confused mess.
At least you can’t accuse the film of deviating from canon, since the canon itself is a bit of a quagmire. And Jonah Hex sets up a suitable cocktail of steampunk, black magic and Leone-esque western to establish the proper mood. Confederate soldier Hex (Brolin) balks when his superior, General Turnbull (John Malkovich), orders him to burn down a hospital; instead, he betrays the unit to the North, prompting Turnbull to slaughter his wife and child while he watches, then sear the right side of his face with a brand. Crow Indians nurse him back to health, and he emerges from the ordeal with the ability to speak to the dead. He makes a living as a bounty hunter until Turnbull shows up again with a plot to destroy Washington using a new super weapon.
The script borrows heavily from The Outlaw Josey Wales, as well as some of the more unseemly parts of Wild Wild West. It might have been serviceable, however, had Hayward not been so emotionally tone deaf. Once he establishes the basic atmosphere, he goes absolutely nowhere with it, repeating the same notes over and over again. Hex is a bad-ass, he wants revenge, pointing a gun at him is a bad idea, blah-blah-blah. A few bits of Q-style cowboy gadgets are intended to liven up the affair (without success), as is Turnbull’s hackneyed effort to bring the United States to its knees. Even with such a brief running time, the action gets old very quickly, as does the film’s annoying habit of trying to appear contemporary (referring to Turnbull as a “terrorist,” for example).
Jonah Hex compounds that by rushing through everything in a frantic effort to get where it’s going. One gets the sense of copious subplots left on the cutting room floor, which explains why superfluous figures like Megan Fox’s hooker with a heart of gold or Will Arnett’s painfully earnest Union officer seem shunted off into their own separate movie. Other characters arrive and depart with little rhyme or reason, including a yellow dog who serves no purpose besides following Hex around for a little atmosphere.
Whether the excised elements were any good or not is beside the point; their absence leaves great chunks of exposition papered over by Brolin’s thuddingly obvious voice-over narration and similar storytelling shortcuts. The shutter-stop editing and monotonously thunderous musical score defeat any effort to get into the story, reducing every scene to the same basic proposition. Malkovich gives Ben Kingsley a run for his money in the Which Slumming Actor Can Cash His Check Fastest department, as do other performers like Aidan Quinn, Michael Shannon and Michael Fassbender (all far too strong to be stuck in this drek).
As for Brolin, he constitutes the film’s sole saving grace, with a properly grim tone highlighted by just enough of a twinkle in his eye. He deserved better, as did the character: a minor addition to the DC canon who nonetheless demonstrates that comic books are more than just capes and superheroes. There might have been good movie here at one point, but when things go this far off the rails, searching for anything positive becomes an exercise in futility. Jonah Hex lost its way long before it hit the screen, laboring mightily to deliver a threadbare collection of postmortem detritus. Don’t waste your time sifting through it; the process is just too depressing for words.