A film review by Craig J. Koban June 22, 2010
JONAH HEX ½
2010, PG-13, 80 mins.
2010, PG-13, 80 mins.
Jonah Hex: Josh Brolin / Quentin Turnbull: John Malkovich / Lilah:
Megan Fox / Burke: Michael Fassbender / Lt. Grass: Will
Arnett / Lt. Evan: John Gallagher Jr. / Col. Slocum: Tom Wopat
/ Doc Cross Williams: Michael Shannon / Adleman Lusk: Wes
Bentley / Cassie: Julia Jones
I remember many days of my childhood and early adolescent comic book reading days when I glanced over issues of DC Comics’ Jonah Hex on newsstands, but generally ignored them altogether (my youth was spent focusing on the adventures of Batman and Spider-Man).
much of this had to do with the notion that Hex – the creation of artist
Tony DeZuniga and writer John Albana, first appearing in All-Star Western # 10
from 1971 – was not a proverbial spandex-clad hero that was appealing to
a younger reader. Hex was
more of an anti-superhero, a surly, cynical, and world-weary bounty hunter
that was horribly scarred on one side of his face.
The original stories – after having read some of them recently –
gritty and raw, owing much of their flavor to the Man With No Name
Western iconography and their creativity to the writers and
artists that were given free reign to conjure up stories that worked
against the grain of super hero adventures.
film adaptation of this Civil War-era outlaw seemed like a novel idea,
especially for those looking for a bit of counter-programming from
filmmakers interested in appropriating little known comic book properties.
Certainly, JONAH HEX had serious potential to conjure up a
radically new western mythology for contemporary filmgoers, and despite a
very competent and decent cast and a few instances of absurd curiosity,
the film is a short, rushed, confusing, messy, and unremarkable – but
never dull – time waster. From
what I have read, there is a compelling world from the original Hex comics
that lends itself to big screen treatment, but after sitting through the
insufferably short – 80 minutes, including credits – adventure, one
gets the sense that the studio and filmmakers on board wished to shave off
as much of the compelling comic book intrigue of the character. What we get is a half-hearted and lifeless film that appears
to be hastily rushed into theatres without fully feeling like a final
product. It’s not that the
film is a disastrous bomb (as many recent critics have gleefully pointed
out), but rather that it’s just fragmentary and cobbled together: it feels like a
sloppy first edit, not a final one ready for release.
film’s story is grounded in 1876 during the post-Civil War America and
very quickly establishes the origin of Hex (Josh Brolin), a former
Confederate soldier that has let his conscience and good will get in the
way of his duties. His
opposition is a vicious and cruel Confederate general name Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich) who has had enough of Hex’s moral
righteousness. He captures
Hex, ties him up, and forces him to watch the brutal execution of his wife
and child by burning them alive. To
add insult to Hex’s emotional wounds, he then proceeds to take a piping
hot iron and scars and burns the one side of his face...to remind him
of the person behind the carnage.
Hex survives the hellish ordeal, but he is now a disfigured freak
of a gunslinger that has decided to live a life of a fearless and
determined bounty hunter. Oh,
he also has managed to developed the supernatural ability to touch dead
people, wake them up from the six-feet-under slumber, and speak to them
(yeah…cool). He received
his gifts from – who else – Indian shaman (only in westerns are
Indians capable of giving one supernatural abilities).
Hex has very few friends, but he does take solace in the bedside
company of a whore named Lilah (Megan Fox), dubiously one of the most
clean-skinned, well manicured, and exquisitely made up prostitutes in western film
history (I doubt that Clinique cosmetic products existed in the late 19th
Century wild west). One
of the even bigger mysteries of the film is how a luminous creature like
her is sexually and emotionally attracted to the very hideous looking Hex.
the dastardly and insane Turnbull has a serious axe to grind with the U.S.
government: He decides to
hatch out a terrorist plot that would destroy Washington D.C. and end the
presidency of U.S. Grant (Aidan Quinn).
With the assistance of his cheerfully psychotic henchmen, Burke
(Michael Fassbender), Turnbull is able to secure the blueprints and build
an "Ultimate Weapon" that involves – as far as the film’s spotty script
explains – shooting multiple, large scale cannon balls on to the target
and then later shooting out a smaller, gold-hued glowing orb that triggers
a calamitous, explosive discharge with the capabilities to destroy a whole
city. Turnbull is determined
to use this device on Washington during Independence Day, but with the
President enlisting Hex to track and find the nefarious villain, you just
know that these two former soldiers-in-arms will have to settle their
score once and for all.
I will dispense with the positives first: JONAH HEX definitively
benefits from a very game and very good cast that rise above the inherent
mediocrity of the script: they nearly save the film.
Brolin has the type of mug and grizzled disposition that is born
for a western, and I liked the way he underplays a very, very broad role.
He also has a great snarl, a raspy, Clint-Eastwood inflection, and
the ability to utter what would be horrendous one-liners with a real,
flavorful intensity. Best of
all, he has a swagger and gritty charm as Hex: he manages to keep the
lunacy of the film afloat while modestly winking at the audience, letting us
know that he’s in on the joke. Malkovich,
on the other hand, relishes in hamming up his disgruntled villain with a
campy – but soft-spoken - ferocity that only he can muster.
Then there is the perpetually corseted (and appealingly sweaty) Megan Fox as
the obligatory love interest here and the object of every swooning
teen viewers' (and some 35-year-old film critic’s) desire.
Fox is, to be fair, feisty and tough in a mournfully underwritten and
measly role. That, and she is
very, very believable as…a whore.
Fassbender (one of the most underrated of contemporary actors) fares much
better and exudes an
erratic and malicious delight as his blood-loving, derby hat wearing
baddie; he has considerable fun mugging for attention with Malkovich’s
Turnbull. Fassbender injects some much needed caginess and unhinged unpredictability
into the film. The rest of the
cast – including other actors like Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Wes Bentley, and
Michael Shannon) are reduced to blink- and-you’ll-miss-them cameos.
Even more regrettable is how the film squanders the comic potential
of Will Arnett (capable of being effortless hilarious) as a somewhat
bumbling Union soldier that assists Hex’s mission.
Arnett is utterly misused here playing a relative straight,
The film is beset by other large problems, like its soullessly unfocused screenplay that seems like it's galloping to the end credits without a care in the world for telling a complete story. It’s difficult to tell an involving and commanding narrative about Hex’s comic universe in an hour and 20 minutes. The editing of the film is choppy and undisciplined, not to mention that it makes some would-be intriguing aspects confusing. There are too many ideas in the film that are never made abundantly clear, like, for example, scenes between Hex and Turnbull that occur in some sort of quasi-parallel universe where the two duke it out in a naturalistic arena made up of red sand and psychedelic colors. I am assuming this is meant to reflect what is to come or what is occurring in the real world, but the film is so abysmally lacking in follow-through and even basic exposition that you just never know.
the film is never tedious with the likes of Brolin, Malkovich, and
Fassbender manning the helm, and there are individual moments of campy exhilaration
(like an early moment when Hex shreds his enemies away with a
dual, horse mounted gatling gun, albeit in a sanitized, bloodless, PG-13
fashion; this film should have been an unhinged R).
CRANK creators Neveldine and Taylor
who harnessed wanton mayhem and perverse, testosterone-induced carnage in
those films with elation - provide Hex’s script and the film also has an
able-minded director in Jimmy Hayward (who directed HORTON HEARS A WHO and
worked on the animation for many of the great Pixar catalogue).
However, it’s impossible to decipher whether the movie’s failings
are their faults or the result of tinkering studio brass (Neveldine and
Taylor left the project due to differences early on).
Ultimately, I got the impression that Warner Brothers hacked the
film to shreds and – instead of postponing and retooling it –
unceremoniously dumped it into cineplexes when it was not ready for prime
time. There are good pieces
here, but they are just not assembled together to create a cohesive and
enjoyable whole. In the end,
JONAH HEX is a western/comic book film that’s as twisted and deformed as
the title character’s face.