STUDIO: Warner Bros.
TIME: 81 Minutes
- The Weird Western Tales of Jonah Hex
- The Inside Story of Jonah Hex
- Digital Copy
Director: Jimmy Hayward (sorta).
Writers: Neveldine & Taylor. William Farmer (story by). Based on the DC Comics character.
Cinematographer: Mitchell Amundsen
Cast: Josh Brolin. John Malkovich. Megan Fox. Michael Fassbender. Will Arnett. Michael Shannon (sorta). Jeffrey Dead Morgan.
The first publicity still from The Outlaw Stacy Keach.
Jonah Hex isn’t some abomination that needs to be cast away into some dark corner of filmdom where the truly junky big screen disasters lurk. It’s a misfire to be sure, and clocking in at just a tad over 80 minutes with credits it’s obviously the victim of many people with opinions trying to make it into something it wasn’t but it’s not an abomination.
It isn’t all that good either. It’s a shame too, because Josh Brolin is a good Jonah Hex and he takes his combination of authentic Western persona and ability to be tongue in cheek [in this case, tongue hanging almost out of cheek] and tries desperately to make the character more than just an ugly face with guttural line deliveries.
“I believe I’ve entered the wrong comic book movie!”
The film begins with Jonah Hex being penalized for betraying his military outfit for not participating in the atrocities being perpetrated by his superior Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich) and his cronies (including Michael Fassbender’s Burke). It’s where his heinous scarring is born by superheated branding iron, but it’s watching his family burned alive before his eyes that sends Hex deep into the darkness. The conceit is that he lives between the living and the dead and is able to communicate with the deceased as he exacts his special breed of justice as he travels the West. It makes for a decent if not familiar backdrop for a film that is essentially a revenge piece. Where the problems lie are in the tone and balance struck in former Pixar man Jimmy Hayward’s gorgeous but vacant film.
“Seems like just a year or so ago I was working with Tarantino on a film people wanted to see…”
It’s a PG-13 movie with lots of people getting shot and some creepy moments involving revived corpses but it has no bite. It has a lead actor who embodies the physicality of the role but who is also capable of plumbing the depths of making Jonah Hex a truly great tortured antihero. It has production value in spades.
In short, it would have been a perfect companion piece for Constantine. That film was wisely rated R and it made enough money to satisfy most involved parties. In retrospect, Jonah Hex would have at least been better with more balls and it couldn’t make much less than it did as a PG-13.
“I’m squashed!” “Me too!”
But it’s toothless and bland and mostly what we get to see is Josh Brolin being a grumpy frontier smartass rather than an icon. Regardless of your familiarity with the character and the brand, Jonah Hex is an iconic character who lives somewhere between the Spaghetti Western Eastwood characters and some of the more weird characters to come out of comics in the late 70’s and early 80’s. The supernatural element wasn’t always in play, but since the film incorporates it there should have been a much more weird and dark vibe throughout the film. Worse yet, one of the film’s climactic battles is an awkward fight scene between Hex and Turbull in this dreamy spirit world. It’s a terrible idea and made much worse by Malkovich, and actor who is mostly a stunt casting option these days and one who is a laughable opponent in a fight scene. I like Malkovich, but he has worn out his welcome tenfold in the past decade with bad choices, bad performances, and money grubbing roles. He’s an ill fit here, especially when Michael Fassbender is mightily trying to add weirdness and menace to the film with his tattooed villain character who’s relegated to sidekick duty.
Another error in this PG-13 flick is by downplaying the fact that the female lead of the film is a prostitute who looks like she walked straight off a magazine cover and as we meet her she’s just finished getting screwed by an older man who’s willing to leave his family for her. She lives a slightly colorful life without factoring in the mushfaced supernatural gunslinger who’s her true love. Had the character been played by Amy Ryan it may have worked, but it’s Megan Fox. I don’t know if the memo has reached your desk yet, but she’s not Meryl Streep. Having someone like Brolin (who people seem to forget has appeared in no less that four great campy movies before becoming a Hollywood darling) to pair off with should inspire someone at a pivotal career crossroads like Fox, but alas. She’s dreadful, and though the film teases her to be a tough gal she winds up being a damsel in distress in the film’s latter moments.
“Relax. In five years no one’s going to even remember this movie happened.”
The film works when it’s obviously having fun. The opening scene where Hex pretty much kills a town is loaded with easy generic Western toughness but it does the job. The scenes where Hex speaks to the dead are very well done, including one with Jeffery Dean Morgan as Turnbull’s Hex-killed son. Seeing Morgan and Brolin together makes one wonder of the film that could have been, as these two actors know exactly how to excel with material like this. Plus it’s fun to see Will Arnett sort of playing a serious role as a skittish military commander who employs Hex to help them best Turnbull’s cadre of assholes.
Ultimately the movie just burps from scene to scene without much real connective tissue, making its way towards a boring and overdone finale as Turnbull attempts a terrorist attack on the president (Aidan Quinn as Ulysses S. Grant!), completing the task of turning Jonah Hex into a missed opportunity on nearly every level. Written by Neveldine/Taylor, you’d expect the movie to at least be aggressive and nutty, but it isn’t and rumors of turmoil on the set and the replacement of the director in post production are fine for gossip but all that matters is what turns up onscreen.
Mastodon contributed to the score, which awesome no matter how you slice it.
At the end of the day, Jonah Hex is bland and jumbled but not offensive and certainly not some big injustice to the source material. It’s just not a good movie and it reeks of too many cooks in the kitchen. Hollywood’s commandeering of the comic book industry needs a few films like this to happen and remind us all that sometimes a grave should be left undisturbed.
The film looks amazing on blu-ray and I find that companies that include a digital copy are doing a great service towards the viability of that medium, so in that I am thrilled to see any film embrace that. Obviously some studios are warmer to the idea than others but I think a ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ mentality definitely applies here.
The special features are minimal, though the three or four little deleted scenes absolutely should have been kept in the film because any meat they could have tacked onto the skeleton would have been good, and the French Quarter scene embraces the vibe and Vertigo Comics feel they obviously were trying to mine. Fans of Michael Shannon would enjoy his deleted scene as a lecherous stagecoach jackass.
The featurettes devoted to the character and the film’s birth are neutered by the actual film but it’s an interesting watch. That said, Akiva Goldsman irks me but maybe that’s nature righting things.
The features are handled somewhat quickly and serve the movie, but are hardly enough to explain why it’s such a bag of smashes or make us hope that there’s a better unreleased cut of the movie that’ll descend and justify the endeavor.
5.0 out of 10