What a goddamned mess. Too slight to be memorably terrible, Jonah Hex is just 80 some odd minutes of bland, boring, tedious nonsense. Utterly inept and squandering potential at every opportunity, the only ‘interesting’ thing the film has going for it is an ending that is totally bizarro, terribly conceived and bafflingly stupid.
Based on the long-running DC Comics gunslinger, Jonah Hex is a movie without a real reason to exist. There are hints at what could have been a good film in there – ideas that never quite get followed up on, scenes that (on paper) could have been amazing – but mostly it’s an aimless disaster, squashed into the shortest running time possible. It’s hard for me to even come up with things to say about the film; edited down to the barest essentials required to have a basically coherent narrative, the movie feels out of breath and listless at the same time. How can something in such a hurry to get from scene to scene be going nowhere so fast?
Josh Brolin is miserable as the title character; burdened with a facial prosthetic that reduces most of his dialogue to mumbling, Brolin seems to have no feeling for who the character is. He’s constantly struggling with the movie’s tone – somewhere in the script is a balls-out, cartoony bit of over the top fun, but Brolin can’t quite put his finger on it. He vacillates from grimly boring to silly, and the only reason why his performance isn’t the film’s worst is because Megan Fox and John Malkovich are in it as well.
I don’t mind Fox the way so many do, but she’s awful in this film. Part of that has to be blamed on the character she’s called to play – a tough as nails prostitute with a heart of gold who suddenly becomes a subservient wench whenever Jonah Hex walks into the room. The film famously included massive reshoots, and I have to imagine that Fox’s character of Lila got seriously fucked up in the course of that. Whatever the case, Fox’s performance is dismal and irritating, and even the sight of her in bloomers is useless because the film cakes her in filth and sweat most of the movie.
Malkovich, meanwhile, appears to be acting in this movie due to indentured servitude. He plays General Turnbull, a Confederate terrorist who killed Hex’s family and scarred his face, wrongly thought dead who now has a set of stupid magical cannonballs with which he’s going to blow up Washington DC. Malkovich barely even tries to give Turnbull a Confederate accent, and in more than one scene I didn’t even notice he was on screen! It’s as though Malkovich, ashamed of being in this film, is willing himself invisible. It’s remarkable that an actor of such power should melt off screen so quietly.
Not everybody is terrible in Jonah Hex. Michael Fassbender is terrific as Turnbull’s Irish right hand man, and he seems to get the tone that the movie needed in order to even hope to work. Fassbender understands that going big doesn’t always mean going broad, and his character is the shining light of the film, the most fun person on screen. You’re rooting for him to kill Hex and just take over the movie, delivering us from the horrific muddled mess of Brolin’s performance.
But that isn’t to be, and instead we’re stuck with the other bland character. To make matters worse director Jimmy Hayward doesn’t seem to understand the first thing about making a movie scene cool. On paper the idea of Jonah Hex stalking down the halls of a fort shooting guys with explosive crossbow bolts is awesome, so why is it so boring in execution? Again and again there are scenes where I could understand why someone would think this was cool -a guy popping out of a coffin to shoot Hex, and when the guy is killed he falls right back into the coffin – but Hayward never makes any of them come alive. The authorship of the film is complicated – Francis Lawrence came on to reshoot large chunks of the movie – but whoever was behind the camera failed time and again to take any of the ideas on display and make them work.
The biggest fuck up of all comes at the end, so expect minor spoilers from here on out: in the final battle between Hex and Turnbull Hayward/Lawrence/the chimp making the decisions created a bizarre fourway set of cutaways. There’s the final battle, which takes place on an ironclad. That’s cut in with Megan Fox battling on the same ironclad. Then it’s cut with an imaginary fist fight between Hex and Turnbull, which in turn is cut with yet another series of flashbacks to Hex’s origin.
That’s right, the final fist fight between Hex and Turnbull is crosscut with an imaginary fistfight between Hex and Turnbull. The idea here, shoddily introduced into the film earlier, is that when you’re about to die you imagine yourself finishing up your life’s business. Which makes no sense, as Hex is actively engaged in a fight with the same guy at the same time. It’s confusing in the worst, most irritating way. You don’t actually care what you’re watching in the first place, and then you have to watch it twice. The imaginary duel is given a red psychedelic haze, and I’m sure someone has dropped the word ‘Jodorowsky’ to someone else about that bit. That person should be beaten.
Halfway through Jonah Hex I wanted to walk out. Not because it was unwatchable but because I just didn’t care. It was a nice day outside and I couldn’t think of a single reason why I would keep watching the film except that I was obligated for work. The movie has obviously been hacked to the bone, but I doubt that a director’s cut (whichever director gets the cut!) would make a difference, unless they cut out all the scenes where the actors did good acting, or all the scenes where the filmmakers made the action thrilling or interesting. Jonah Hex feels like a movie that nobody understood when they made it, that nobody cared about when they edited it, and that nobody wants to be associated with when they release it. It’s a turd from top to bottom, and it doesn’t even have the decency to be an interesting or an infuriating turd. It’s the kind of movie that doesn’t even really pass the time, since it’s only 70 minutes or so without the end credits. A ticket to Jonah Hex on a hot summer day wouldn’t even be worth it for the time spent in air conditioning.
2 out of 10