Like the movie's titular hero, played with gruff charisma by Josh Brolin, Jonah Hex is a shambling, bullet-ridden mess of a movie that does too much scowling and jumping around, but nonetheless briefly shows a few glimpses of the likably growly badass worth making a movie out of. Added up, these glimpses don't even come close to justifying the price of admission, but on the whole I was merely restless and distracted, not outright frustrated and bored. A villainous double-crossing traitor named Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich) has inadvertently robbed our hero of his soul, but the bigger plot afoot here is determining who sucked the life out of the film itself.
After a handful of top-notch performances in Oscar fare (the best being the Coen Brothers' No Country For Old Men), Hollywood came knocking on Brolin's door, and the actor seemed more than a little reluctant to return to the schlock that paid his bills for the previous part of the decade (examples: Into the Blue, Hollow Man). He trepidatiously circled a script by Crank writer/directors Neveldine/Taylor, and with Punisher: War Zone director Lexi Alexander added on top, the whole combination sounded like a surefire molotov cocktail of western action violence. Sadly, Brolin and the producers worked to tone down Neveldine/Taylor's vision and passed on Alexander in favor of Horton Hears a Who! director Jimmy Hayward. Disappointing, but not cause for concern until April 2010 had rolled around and Warner hadn't released so much as a trailer.
The final film clocks in at 82 minutes and bears the obvious marks of a ruthless editor instructed to secure a PG-13 rating at all costs, and the effect is dispiriting. Some of the gags still work, like Hex blasting a would-be killer right back into his primo coffin hiding spot, but the movie is a distracting series of off-camera kills that pack a hollow punch. There are also other signs that a few reels were left on the WB lot: notable character actors like Will Arnett and Wes Bentley (apparently no longer even worthy of "supporting actor" billing, getting lumped in with the rest of the cast) show up for less than ten minutes apiece. In particular, Michael Shannon (billed above Bentley) is on-screen for all of a minute, maybe a minute and thirty seconds at most, in a role that would normally be handed to an extra.
Instead, we're treated to Megan Fox as a hooker with a heart of bronze and John Malkovich in total autopilot mode. I've never liked Fox or found her particularly attractive, so Hex is a double-conundrum: they unscrunch her face in an appealing way that proves she actually is kinda pretty, and reduce her torso to truly scary proportions. Part of it is probably her corset enhancing the skinniness like an optical illusion, but even Hayward seems to want to cut around her frighteningly small stomach, choosing instead to bask any and all shots of her face through the entire movie in a baffling soft focus that basically appears to be a way to airbrush a motion picture. Of course, even if she looked like she'd eaten a few burgers, she's still fatally wooden, so I suppose it's more of a health concern than a film criticism. Inglourious Basterds' Michael Fassbender is the only other person of note, playing a henchmen with a hint of sliminess, but the movie's runtime kills that too, barely allowing Fassbender time to grin his rotting grin, much less form an impression.
Despite all of these problems (as well as a clunky voice-over I'm sure was added in post-production to half-ass all of these pieces together), there's still a little of Neveldine/Taylor's verve lurking underneath the surface. Hex's weird fever dream in which he rises from the ground to fight Turnbull in a blistering red canyon is a trip, there's a random wrestling match he attends with some sort of acid-drooling snake man, and he finds himself rescued by silent, magical Native American Indians, who perform an elaborate crow de-ghosting in the middle of the movie. If anyone slowed down to take a look at this material, even for five minutes, I might have liked it enough to consider it a slice of "guilty pleasure" rental schlock. One character tells Hex he's damned, and seems skeptical the man can be saved. I'm skeptical that Jonah Hex can be saved either, but maybe an Unrated DVD could kinda do the trick.
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