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JONAH HEX (2010) review

June 18, 2010

written by: Neveldine & Taylor (screenplay/story) and William Farmer (story), based on characters created by John Albano and Tony Dezuniga
produced by: Akiva Goldsman and Andrew Lazar
directed by: Jimmy Hayward
rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, disturbing images and sexual content)
U.S. release date: June 18, 2010

Jonah Hex is a very cool and unique DC Comics Western character who made his first appearance around the same time I was born back in 1972. He’s a sardonic, surly and cynical bounty hunter whose grotesque facial scars either ward off those around him or draw in the curious. Hex would just as well be left alone to his hunting but trouble always seems to find him, especially when he’s trying to protect or avenge the innocent. Sounds like a cool idea for a Western, doesn’t it? Maybe add a touch of noir with a dash of supernatural and some horror elements. Yes, that could very well be a recipe for a cult classic, in the right hands.

Sadly, none of that is happening here in Jonah Hex’s first foray (and likely last) on the big screen. For some reason the four studios involved, Warner Bros. included, decided that a running time of 74 minutes would do a character with such potential justice. Really? I would’ve loved to be in on that meeting. As I sat in the theater for the screening, full of people who were hoping to see a good movie (after all, no one really sets out to waste time, do they? Just like no one actually sets out to make a crappy movie, right? I could be wrong about that last part), I found myself going from hopeful to bored and than angry that I was bored.

At some point you just give in and subject yourself to deal with what your dealt. Maybe find something to admire while shaking your head at all the mishaps being made at just about every turn. This viewing experience wasn’t all bad though. I can’t think of anyone else who could play Jonah Hex better than Josh Brolin. From his ticks and expressive eyes to his overall attitude, he has Hex down. Too bad known of the other actors could reach his level.

JONAH HEX Josh Brolin
It’s not that the rest of the actors are awful. That’s not the case at all. It’s just that they are either not that good to begin with, earning a paycheck or hamming it up as yet another bad guy….I’m talkin’ to you, John Malkovich. He plays psychotic Quentin Turnball (or Turdball, it’s all the same), once a high-ranking officer, fighting in the Civil War and now the Mexicans call him “terrorista”, or something like that. Back when Hex was in the military, Turnball was his superior and when Hex turned on him, he wound up witnessing the murder of his family and branded across his right cheek, all courtesy of Turnball. Supposedly, Turnball did this to get back at Hex for killing his family, but the screenwriters glossed over that potential for characterization.

Hex is left for dead and in traditional Western fashion gets resuscitated by the local Native Americans, with an added power-up. He can talk to dead people. Talk about a downer supernatural power. It’s easier for Hex to walk into a graveyard and yap it up with a corpse than it is start up a conversation with someone in a saloon.

It’s around this time that Hex decides being a drifting gunslinger for hire is the way to go. After all, a whore like Tallulah Black (Megan Fox) obviously finds this kinda guy attractive so Hex must be doing something right. We’re to assume she must see right through this scoundrel. Assuming is all we can do because we’re never shown why these two are together or what their history is. Who cares, right? It’s Megan Fox and she’s hot, so everyone will see this movie. Wrong. Even the glossy lens, used to film her for the short amount of time she is here, didn’t fool me. I’d like to think that casting directors will look at Fox’s track record after “Transformers” and see that acting catatonic or despondent does not add much to a film.


But then the military comes calling, proclaiming to Hex, “You’re country needs you!” at the request of President Grant (Aidan Quinn), who knows Hex is the only one who can take down Turnball. Lt. Grass (Will Arnett) isn’t too thrilled about reinstating his scum but goes along with it like a good soldier. Hex also gets some help from his very own Western Q, an African-American named Smith (Lance Reddick, or The Haitian from “Heroes”), who supplies him with weapons. Once particular weapon makes absolutely no sense, handgun crossbows that fire sticks of dynamite. Later on, we see Hex employ these with ease, taking out bad guys left and right. And just how are they reloading? Oh no, that won’t be explained.

For reasons unexplained, Turnbull has it in for America and is assembling a doomsday canon that runs on glowing orange powerballs, capable of demolishing whole towns. He’s even tested it on one helpless Western town, the CGI looked just right. And now he’s aiming for DC on its centennial celebration. None of it can be taken seriously because as an antagonist, Malkovich is a joke. The guy looks like an angry carnie throughout the whole film. He shouts and walks around cross-eyed with an unhinged smirk on his face. There’s no effort in writing this character out of stock the evil villain role and there’s no point in trying cuz Malkovich just takes it. Val Kilmer had a lot more fun as the villain in the forgotten “MacGruber” and he was also fun to watch too. Not painfully droll like Malkovich is here.

I remember being worried when it was announced that, Jimmy Hayward, the man who directed “Horton Hears a Who” would be helmed “Jonah Hex”. What criteria was this based on? Here’s an animation guy who is likely into comics and wanted to take a crack at live-action. Fine. Yet maybe bringing an edgy and violent beloved comic character to the big screen was too much of a stretch for Hayward. This material needed someone like John Hillcoat (“The Proposition”) or Sam Raimi (“Drag Me to Hell”) to add style and heft to a simplistic story consisting of revenge, villainy, and explosive orange orbs. It’s too bad the studios couldn’t get behind an R-rating too, we might have had seen some real stakes then.

JONAH HEX John Malkovich

The screenwriters should be apprehended for such an injustice. They are two people who are pretentiously named as one, Neveldine/Taylor, who brought us the manic “Crank” franchise and last year’s flop, “Gamer.” The most erroneous manuever is when the two try to get all trippy toward the end as Hex and Turnball have this astral plane mano y mano showdown. It’s more annoying and unimaginative than it is confusing, which just not what you want with material that is so ripe with possibilities. Or we could round-up producer Akiva Goldsman while we’re at it. Each time I read his name I cringe, since he was responsible for writing the two Schumacher Batman films. Obviously, he can’t be trusted with comic book material but look out, he’s got his hands on more “Fantastic Four” films now.

As stated above, Brolin is the only tolerable presence here. He’s great at delivering one-liners with such exhausted ease. Brolin has just the right body language and savvy and while his character balances between the physical and the meta-physical plane (don’t get me started), he can’t seem to inject any life in this dead horse. And its a shame since there are some proven actors here. Michael Fassbender is a great actor. Yet here, playing some tattoo-riddled, hyperactive henchmen of Turnball’s, he’s laughable. Channeling some cross between The Riddler and Malcolm McDowell from “A Clockwork Orange” doesn’t cut it for him either. Blink and you’ll also miss the great Michael Shannon (I couldn’t even tell he was there), Wes Bentley and Tom Wopat, Unfortunately, all the supporting actors felt like they were in an FX movie exclusive.

Now, I’m well aware what some will say about this film. It’s a summer action film, just park your brain and enjoy. You can suggest I park my brain but it has to be a better film than this to make me try to enjoy it. I don’t subscribe to thinking that if I don’t get my expectations up, then I won’t be as disappointed. We should expect to get something out of the movies every time we watch one, at least a good time. If not, then why watch?

I want to believe there is more to the world of “Jonah Hex” then Hayward delivers. I know that the current comic books, written by Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray, definitely has much more to offer. If it happens that this movie piques a viewers curiosity about Hex, then checking out this current run would be a good move. It will not only wash the taste of this movie out of your cinematic palette but it will most assuredly entertain you more than this drivel. You can even imagine Brolin’s voice as Hex as you read the books, since he was the best part of this movie.


RATING: * star 

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Wendi F permalink
    June 22, 2010 9:22 pm

    Lance Reddick is not the Haitian from “Heroes”. He is the incredible Lt. Daniels from “The Wire” who also wastes his talent on “Lost” and “Fringe”.


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