Movie Review – Jonah Hex (2010)
Jonah Hex has got to be one of the most ill-constructed movies I have had the misfortune of seeing and will probably go down in history as a great example to film students of how not to construct a movie. While that might sound damning there are so many issues here that it would take me more than 81 pages to describe just how dreadful the experience is which, if you probably have guessed by now, is also longer than the actual screenplay length.
Josh Brolin is the title character, Jonah Hex, a man bent on revenge after watching his former commander named Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich) murder his family before his eyes. Making matters even worse Turnbull brands Hex’s face to remind him of the horrors he’s seen leaving a gaping hole in his cheek which certainly makes drinking liquid a comedic sight. Additionally, his near brush with death somehow provides him with the supernatural power to talk to dead people although it is nowhere near as endearing as Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense.
It has been known for a long time leading up to the release of the film that it was an inherently troubled production with the original directors leaving, last minute reshoots and a kind of haphazard editing that has resulted in a complete mish-mash of assorted scenes, underdeveloped characters and a general listless sense of direction. In some ways I’m inclined to give a kind of back-handed compliment that I’m surprised that the filmmakers have managed to cobble together enough footage to release what they did but it also makes me wonder if anyone can actually see the footage that remained on the cutting room floor of which there must be reams of film stock. The reason I ask this is because the film has so many disjointed and sometimes irrelevant scenes that it makes one wonder if this is a case of too much being shot and then hastily edited to throw out the door or a totally jumbled script that went to production in an incomplete state.
For instance, we have a kind of dream sequence that is often times repeated where Jonah Hex is facing off mano-a-mano against his nemesis Quentin Turnbull which is initially introduced by Hex as being like life flashing before your eyes just before your death. The “trick” here is that it shows you the things which you haven’t managed to accomplish. This sounds mildly amusing but it doesn’t make a lick of sense since as these dream sequences keep repeating especially at the climax it doesn’t show what is left undone but rather mirrors exactly what is happening at that point in time. Confused? You bet as I’m sure the filmmakers were as well since they are contradicting the exposition that they themselves created.
Thus audiences are treated to a very ridiculous end fight sequence where Turnbull and Hex are fighting onboard a civil war ironclad while at the very same time fighting in a dream sequence. This is the first time in my entire career as a film reviewer that I’ve ever experienced a movie where the director thought that it would make infinitely more sense to have two fist fights featuring the hero and the antagonist running at the same time. Unfortunately, now that I’ve seen it I can safely say that there will probably never be another case like this for a long time since it not only doesn’t work but is prone to illicit howls of laughter as audiences slap their heads in total disbelief.
There is no point dwelling on the behind-the-scenes shenanigans since none of us were privy to them so the only thing we can remark on is the finished product and it is quickly apparent that trouble is amiss. This is because the film really has so many competing messages and undertones that it can’t decide which direction it wants to take a phenomenon which unfortunately resides in our protagonist Jonah Hex as well. On one hand audiences are immediately sympathetic to a man who vows revenge after watching his family burn to death in front of him yet that measure of compassion quickly gets muddled due to the fact that it is revealed that Turnbull only did so out of revenge for Hex killing his son. While we later realize the true reason behind Hex’s actions it basically frames the movie as nothing more than two alpha males preening about who has the bigger codpiece since both exhibit some tasteless bouts of killing.
The film literally flies ahead at warp speed but in doing so it seems to skip over large sections of plot, content to only give random highlights of all the wrong scenes. It’s like watching Dances With Wolves: The Lite edition which takes three hours and compresses it all into a narrative barely over 60 minutes. Thus what audiences end up with is a huge amount of hanging plot threads that are never resolved or instead are neatly tidied up in mere seconds. Characters get introduced such as Megan Fox’s Lilah and then are jettisoned for huge chunks of the running time only to show up again to become mere props to be moved around the set rather than giving audiences some justification as to why they were included in the first place. For instance, we know just by watching Fox’s first few scenes that she’s supposedly a “tough” girl who can look out for herself yet we’re never given any clue as to where she came from, why she loves Hex or even how it comes to pass that she’s just as good with a pistol as the hero. Other supporting characters fare even worse topping the list being comedian Will Arnett who plays a Union Lieutenant in a straight dramatic role without even one instance where he showcases his comedic talent. Throw in the fact that he has less than five minutes of screen time and again it makes one question the filmmakers as to why he was chosen for this particular role as any Joe Smith extra could have pulled it off.
Stylistically the film is all over the proverbial map as there are hints of its comic book origins in the beginning of the film in a smartly realized 2D animated sequence that shows Jonah’s past back-story yet this mechanism is never revisited. Other key plot points show up out of the blue such as the Indians who aid Hex or even his supernatural powers that allow him to talk to the dead. What makes matters worse is that these powers are not particularly necessary and it would certainly have helped to build audience empathy at his heroic prowess if he merely interrogated key people in Turnbull’s gang rather than going grave robbing and digging up corpses in order to garner information. Throw in a whole slew of disparate elements like the acid spitting gladiator sequence or the appearance of a flock of crows that begin to follow Hex around for no good reason and it quickly becomes apparent that this is a film that has totally lost its way.
Then there is Turnbull’s nefarious plot to destroy the United States government which amounts to using a Union super weapon that seems like it was ripped from a science fiction film and requires a huge suspension of disbelief in order to be taken seriously. The weapon mechanism itself seems like it was created by a madman with no concept of utility of use as it consists of shooting massive cannon balls out of an equally large chain gun towards the target and then following this up with a single glowing cannon ball that somehow has to either strike one of the already landed cannon balls or merely fall somewhere in the vicinity of them in order to act as the trigger to blow everything up. One thing is for certain, if Steve Jobs were in the business of making a doomsday device I have sincere misgivings that he would ever approve of a contraption that is so ridiculous to handle.
Looking over the cast it takes real “talent” to simultaneously have Josh Brolin, John Malkovich and Megan Fox all headline the film yet completely waste their assets as all have next to nothing to work with. Brolin and Malkovich have certainly proven their acting chops elsewhere but they are running on fumes here. Brolin certainly looks the part well enough and commands the screen with his mere stature but he’s reduced to mouthing bad one-liners and scowling every other shot. Malkovich has made a career playing some truly over the top villains yet his Turnbull is remarkably sedate and it doesn’t help that he’s given a kind of mad scientist hairdo that makes him look unthreatening. Finally, there’s poor Megan Fox, who seems to be more famous for her sex appeal than acting ability and while I remain unconvinced of her skill it certainly doesn’t mean that she can’t be effective in a kind of femme fatale role. Unfortunately, while she certainly strikes an impossibly voluptuous sight in her tight corset she is hardly given any screentime and when she does director Jimmy Hayward has seemingly decided to coat her in a layer of shiny sweat no matter what she is doing. There’s a big difference between having a buxom woman exude a glowing sex appeal and overdoing it so that it looks like she’s just stepped out of the sauna.
As you can see I can go on listing more annoyances but there would be no point as the movie does not warrant more words devoted to it. Comic book origin stories are all the rage in Hollywood these days but it certainly seems as if producers are dredging up B and C tiered superheroes as all the popular ones have been already released. However, this doesn’t mean that the original source material is somehow lacking but is more indicative of Hollywood production companies rushing projects out the door in order to fill their summer movie schedules. I have not read the comic book but I am sure it is much more coherent and compelling then this piece of dreadful moviemaking.
* out of ****
2010, 81 Minutes, Warner Brothers, PG-13
Directed by Jimmy Hayward
Screenplay by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
Produced by Akiva Goldsman & Andrew Lazar
Executive Producer: William Fay, John Goldstone, Jon Jashni, Matt Leblanc, Ravi Mehta, Thomas Tull
Original Music by Marco Beltrami & Mastodon
Cinematography by: Mitchell Amundsen
Film Editing by: Kent Beyda, Dan Hanley, Tom Lewis, Fernando Villena
Jonah Hex: Josh Brolin
Quentin Turnbull: John Malkovich
Lilah: Megan Fox
Burke: Michael Fassbender
Lieutenant Grass: Will Arnett
Lieutenant Evan: John Gallagher Jr.
Colonel Slocum: Tom Wopat
Doc Cross Williams: Michael Shannon
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