If you’re the type of person whose favorite part of the theater-going experience is the trailers that play before the features, this weekend holds a special treat for you. Head down to your local cineplex, buy a ticket for Splice or Get Him To the Greek, and then sneak into a showing of Jonah Hex. At under eighty minutes it’s a little long for a traditional trailer, and of course it gives away too much of the ending, but the brief hints of big action, effects, and fun will really get you excited for when the actual movie is released.Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) is an ex-Confederate soldier who refused a morally dubious order from his commanding officer, Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich), and then paid for it by being forced to watch his wife and son die before his eyes. As a parting gift Turnbull brands Hex’s cheek with a ‘QT’ and leaves him alive to wallow in his misery. But Hex is no wallower. Some passing Indians with nothing better to do with their time bring him back from the brink of death and unintentionally imbue him with the ability to speak to the dead. He turns lemons into lemonade by fixing the facial burn so that it resembles the aftermath of a horrible string-cheese disaster, and then transforms himself into a bounty hunter par excellence. His chance at direct vengeance dies with Turnbull in a hotel fire, but Hex continues to express his frustration by hunting for other baddies just the same.
We know all this because a shit-ton of expository narration, some middle-school quality animation, and a handful of jumbled together footage tell us so.
Hex finds solace in the plasticine arms of Lilah (Megan Fox), the hooker with a heart of gold and perfect teeth who can handle herself in a fight even though she weighs seventy-five pounds soaking wet which by the way she never gets in this movie until the very end but stays underwater so we can’t enjoy it, until the US government comes calling to recruit his help in their losing battle against a homegrown terrorist named… wait for it… Quentin Turnbull! He’s alive! He’s blowing the hell out of hospitals, schools, churches, and passenger trains in a bid to destabilize the government and the nation. According to President Aidan Quinn (Aidan Quinn) the only man who can stop him is Jonah Spaghetti-Face Hex. And thus begins several minutes of action and adventure filled with explosions, gun fights, blink and you’ll miss it appearances from actors who should know better, shoddy CGI, and a second intervention by those meddling Indians who insist on resurrecting every half-dead white man they stumble across.
If you’re getting the impression that Jonah Hex is not a good movie it’s because Jonah Hex is not a good movie. Production troubles were reported almost from the beginning when screenwriters Neveldine/Taylor, the duo behind the ridiculous Crank films, had their double-wide director’s chair filled with someone else. That someone was Horton Hears A Who helmer Jimmy Hayward, and Jonah Hex was his first live-action feature. On-set confusion, re-shoots, ratings squabbles, and an editing session courtesy of Edward Scissorhands followed, but we’re here to review the film not the gossip. So let’s begin with what the movie gets right…
Brolin has some fun with the Hex character, and he actually earns some chuckles with his delivery of several humorous lines. Some of the action and fight scenes are fun to watch. Fox is purty.
So there’s that.
The list of what the film gets wrong is far longer, but honestly I don’t feel the need to go through it all. The gist of it is probably evident throughout this review, but the bottom line is that the movie is a mess. Brolin and Fox are fine performance-wise, but both suffer some unfortunate visual deformities. Hex’s facial effects just don’t convince… it looks like someone took Silly Putty, made an imprint of a Cathy cartoon strip, then slapped the whole thing on Brolin’s face. And Fox is a beautiful woman, but every close-up shot has seemingly been touched-up beyond human recognition. Characters aren’t given time to grow. There’s no sense of geography or time. Major events like gaining and using the ability to talk to the dead are glossed over. Narration is poorly written and even more poorly placed. I could go on, but I’d rather go grab lunch so I’ll stop here.
One disappointment resulting from the hatchet editing job does deserve mention though, and it’s the glimpses of actors and characters that could have been… Will Arnett gets a few minutes to walk around and act incredulous, Michael Shannon has literally thirty seconds to snarl some introductions as ringmaster at a cage match, Aidan Quinn has barely a few short scenes (and I would wager he was completely unaware of what was happening in any scene outside of his own), and I’m pretty sure Jeffrey Dean Morgan shows up at one point too. There’s also a brief detour into an illicit cage match featuring some kind of snake-man whose jaw unhinges and drools venomous saliva… clearly a foe who should have gone head to head with our hero, but instead he disappears never to return.
At barely eighty minutes with credits, I’d have a hard time recommending Jonah Hex be seen in theaters even if it was a good movie. Which it’s not. So this is an easy call… add this one to your Netflix queue and wait for the DVD that’s bound to feature roughly thirty minutes of deleted scenes. Or, as I recommended above, pay for a good movie you’ve already seen and sneak into Jonah Hex to watch this fizzle reel for free.
The Upside: Some mildly successful humor; solid fight scenes and massive explosions; very high body count
The Downside: Severe lack of character depth; messy voice-over narration; obvious gaps in narrative; inconsistent effects; odd CGI “smoothing” effect on Megan Fox’s face
On the Side: I actually like Megan Fox and have never understood the pure vitriol spewed her direction on a daily basis. But she is in serious need of a new agent.