June 17, 2010

Jonah Hex

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Jonah Hex

ACTION:

United States, 2010

U.S. Release Date:

2010-06-18

Running Length:

1:20

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Violence, Sexual Content)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Megan Fox, Michael Fassbender, Aidan Quinn

Director:

Jimmy Hayward

Screenplay:

Neveldine & Taylor, based on characters appearing in DC Comics magazines

Cinematography:

Mitchell Amundsen

Music:

Marco Beltrami, John Powell

U.S. Distributor:

Warner Brothers

Subtitles:

none


With its skinny running length (80 minutes, including credits), often incoherent narrative, and neutered violence, Jonah Hex shows all the signs of having been re-worked in the editing room. The resultant production, as is often the case in situations like this, would be better off going straight-to-video. And, if this represents the true vision of director Jimmy Hayward (Horton Hears a Who), then I have only one question: What was he thinking?

Jonah Hex is short enough, slick enough, and loud enough to avoid being summarily dismissed. Although the storyline, with its bizarre ventures into mysticism and necromancy, is at times difficult to follow (at least for someone not conversant with the comic book source material), the movie is never boring. It is, however, frustrating. The lead character, Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin), is a Civil War-era vigilante with a thirst for blood and death-dealing. Yet, obsessed by the desire to release this with a PG-13 rating, Warner Brothers has sanitized an avalanche of gruesome killings beyond what's reasonable. So, despite the high body count, there's almost no viscera. Defending the decision to circumvent the R-rating is fruitless, especially considering that the PG-13 restrictions are more distracting than effective. I mean, if a movie is about a stone-cold killer, shouldn't it be honest enough to show his work?

The movie transpires in the post-Civil War era, with two ex-Confederate soldiers squaring off against one another. On one side is the twisted General Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich), who is assembling a doomsday weapon that he intends to turn against Washington D.C. and use to end the presidency of U.S. Grant (Aidan Quinn). On the other side is Jonah Hex, the scarred bounty hunter and ex-subordinate of Turnbull's whose face bears the marks of a brand wielded by the General on the night he killed Hex's wife and son. Hex is not an ordinary man, either. Rescued from death by Indian magic, he's almost impossible to kill and he possesses the ability to speak with the dead. Hex's lone weakness is a prostitute named Lilah (Megan Fox), who pines for him while entertaining clients. Before he can offer Lilah a better life, however, Hex must settle his score with Turnbull and his sadistic sidekick, Burke (Michael Fassbender).

Most of Jonah Hex follows Hex, who bears a passing resemblance to something out of one of George Romero's "Dead" movies, as he kills people (all of which deserve their fates). Most of them are related to Turnbull in one way or another. There are scenes that take place in some sort of parallel, mystical arena - a one-on-one affair that transpires on red sand and reflects the situation in the "real" world. The specifics of this are never made clear, although perhaps this is second-nature stuff to Jonah Hex fans. The best thing that can be said about Jonah Hex is that it has the good sense not to take itself too seriously (there's a fun scene in which Hex pulls out some serious gunfighting hardware that's a few decades ahead of its time); the tongue isn't always planted in the cheek, but it's there often enough.

Josh Brolin does a game job growling his way through the part and generally looks like a badass under a lot of latex. He is often upstaged by the nicely staged visual setups and the loud metal music, but that's what he signed on for, and he delivers the requisite one-liners with aplomb. He's also not as enjoyable as John Malkovich, who lives by the rulebook for overplaying the bad guy. It's always a problem when the villain is more interesting and charismatic than the hero. Megan Fox is on hand to provide eye candy. She has no character to speak of, and her screening time is so limited that it wouldn't have been hard to eliminate her, except then the movie would have been short its token corseted brunette. The part suits the level of acting talent she has thus far exhibited.

It's hard to fault the idea behind Jonah Hex - the concept of an 1870s vigilante is pregnant with potential, but the execution is awful. Without an understanding of what occurred behind-the-scenes, it's impossible to know who to blame for the final result, but something this messy should have been cleaned up before reaching the screen. Jonah Hex, like so many DC Comics properties not featuring Batman or Superman, fails a successful transition from the printed page to the big screen.

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