Monday, June 21, 2010

Movie Review: Jonah Hex

Jonah Hex * ½
Directed by:
Jimmy Hayward.
Written By: Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor & William Farmer based on the DC Comic by John Albano & Tony Dezuniga.
Starring: Josh Brolin (Jonah Hex), John Malkovich (Quentin Turnbull), Megan Fox (Lilah), Michael Fassbender (Burke), Will Arnett (Lieutenant Grass), Tom Wopat (Colonel Slocum), Michael Shannon (Doc Cross Williams), Wes Bentley (Adleman Lusk), Aidan Quinn (President Grant), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Jeb Turnbull).

I have always liked Westerns. They don’t make very many anymore – in fact you are lucky if you get 4 or 5 great Westerns in a given decade nowadays, instead of 4 or 5 a year back in their heyday of the 1940s and 50s. But whenever a Western comes out – even a supernatural one based on a comic book like Jonah Hex was – I have to go and see it and hope that the filmmakers live up to the best of the genre. In this case, they failed miserably. What makes that even more disappointing that it already would be is that in terms of casting, they could not have asked for a much better, better suited cast. And yes, even if this Western has a supernatural twist, it should have provided fans of the genre a good time at the movies. Unfortunately it seems like no one involved in the film really cared about the quality of the finished product – if they did, they would have demanded a rewrite.

Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) was a Confederate soldier in the Civil War, but he betrayed his platoon (with good reason mind you), leading to all of them being killed. This angers Quentin Turnball (John Malkovich) to no end, because his son was among those who got killed. He shows up at Hex’s house with his henchmen, and forces him to watch as they burn it down – killing Hex’s wife and son, before branding his face, leaving him forever scarred. Hex somehow survives, and wants vengeance. But his near death experience has given him the ability to bring people back from the dead – at least temporarily. He’s kind of like the Pie Man in the short lived, but wonderful, TV series Pushing Daisies.

In the years following his family’s murder, Hex has become a violent bounty hunter – one that will just as soon kill you as arrest you. What he is most bitter about is that Turnball was apparently killed. But when the government approaches him, and tells him that not only is Turnball not dead, but he maybe assembling some sort of doomsday device, and they need his help, he immediately jumps at the chance to bring down his rival.

All of this probably sounds like goofy entertainment – and had it been handled properly, it probably would have been. Josh Brolin is pretty much perfectly cast as Hex – the problem is that the movie doesn’t really give him anything interesting to do or say – and he pretty much delivers his dialogue like a warmed over Clint Eastwood. Malkovich can usually be counted on to be a great villain – but he’s sleepwalking through his role here. He knows what the movie is, and is content to cash his paycheck and move on. The best one in the movie is actually his British henchman played by the great Michael Fassbender (Hunger, Inglorious Basterds, Fish Tank). He goes wildly over the top, but at least he injects some life into the proceedings. I’m sure most critics will be harsh on Megan Fox – they always are – but it’s not really her fault that the prostitute she plays is rather lifeless. The movie gives her NOTHING to do, and very little reason for her character to actually be in the movie. They wanted a hot girl, wearing an old fashioned prostitute getup, including a corset to emphasize her breasts, and that is exactly what they got. Nothing more, nothing less.

The director of the film is Jimmy Hayward, working from a screenplay co-written by the horrible team of Neveldine and Taylor – the writer/directors responsible for both Crank movies, and the horrible Gamer with Gerald Butler. Hayward, whose only previous director credit was Horton Hears a Who, is not nearly as hyperactive as Neveldine and Taylor behind the camera – but he still seems to have graduated from the Michael Bay school of filmmaking. The action sequences are so quickly edited, that it is hard to tell what the hell is going on. He slows down for the dialogue driven sequences, but it doesn’t help. The movie is barely 80 minutes long, but feels much longer.

Jonah Hex is a movie that doesn’t work simply because no one really took time to make it work. I have never read the comic this film is based on, but watching the movie I was struck that a movie with similar story elements could work as B-grade fun – even if they kept the entire cast they had. What they needed though was a coherent, interesting screenplay – something to make these characters feel real, instead of like a bunch of actors playing dress up. Since the movie bombed opening weekend, we will likely never see another Jonah Hex movie – which if they kept the same creative team behind this one is most likely a blessing. But I couldn’t but thinking that the film is a wasted opportunity. Given to a better team behind the camera, this could have been great fun. It isn’t, and that’s a shame.

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