June 18, 2010

Jonah Hex doesn’t seem like it runs from a script as much it runs from an outline.  The basic plot beats are in place, characters have motivation, events occur in a mostly logical order (although the actions within those events don’t hold up so well), and then the movie ends.  In 80 minutes.  I don’t think there’s a scene in Jonah Hex that lasts longer than five minutes.  I’m all for brevity of storytelling, but Hex seems to be racing to the end before anyone notices it exists.  That’s a shame because it has some good performances and some creative sparks.  But watching the movie, you know that it’s been edited to hell and stripped of what it was supposed to be—for better or worse.  It’s a bloody, angry revenge flick that doesn’t have any blood and is trying to manage its anger.  The result is an uneven film that never feels true to itself and does the bare minimum in order to get by.

Josh Brolin stars a Jonah Hex, a disfigured confederate soldier turned bounty hunter out to avenge his family’s death by killing his former commanding officer, Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich).  Aside from being really good at killing people, Hex also has the ability to communicate with the dead.  Contracted by the U.S. Government, Hex is tasked with stopping Turnbull before the “terrorista” (as the Mexicans call him) uses a super weapon to destroy Washington D.C. on the centennial.  Hex also has what would technically qualify as a romantic relationship with a prostitute (played by Megan Fox), but they’re probably on screen together for less than ten minutes.  Unlike the fun talking-with-dead-folks aspect, the relationship with Fox’s character feels perfunctory.  Hex has wilder elements worth exploring, but it’s constantly dragged down by tired Hollywood conventions.

Strangely enough, for a movie rushing to get to the finish line, Jonah Hex doesn’t have much energy.  The film never drags, but it rarely seems to be having as much fun as it should.  Brolin acquits himself well and Michael Fassbender steals the entire movie playing Turnbull’s chief henchman.  When the film gets outlandish, it gets fun.  It’s fun that Hex has crossbow-guns that fire dynamite.  It’s fun that Hex talks to the dead like it’s no big deal.  But most of the time, the film is trying to be a standard blockbuster.  Hex, depsite its modest budget, has the scale of a big action movie, but no one’s going to mistake it for one.  It’s too brief, too colorless, and doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be.

The problem with Jonah Hex isn’t necessarily that it’s not long enough.  It’s problem is that it’s not enough, period.  There’s not enough laughs, not enough thrills, not enough confidence, and not enough fun.  Brolin, Fassbender, and some of the more clever designs stop the movie from being a total wash, but the completed picture is as mangled as its protagonist’s face.

Rating: C-

Josh Brolin as Jonah Hex movie poster

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