STARRING: Josh Brolin, John Malkovich,
Megan Fox, Michael Fassbender, Will Arnett, Michael Shannon
2010, 80 Minutes, Directed by:
the moment Josh Brolin first talks out of the makeup of his eponymous bounty
hunter's disfigured face and mouth—a clean string of flesh like sinew where the
lips should meet the cheek holding his trap closed just enough that he must
speak through gritted teeth—you can feel Jonah Hex struggling to break
free of the chains of its oppressive tone.
Then John Malkovich shows up,
sporting a relatively subdued (for him) Southern accent, as Jonah's arch nemesis
Quentin Turnbull, a former Confederate general who once ordered his son to burn
down a church. After the war, we learn, is when he really went off the deep end.
Jonah killed Turnbull's son in defiance of the order, which led Turnbull to kill
Jonah's wife and son and brand the now disgraced colonel's face, which led Jonah
to want to get revenge on his former commanding officer, which leads to a
comic-book style prologue detailing all of this. And also how Jonah was so close
to death after the attack that he can now commune with the dead (which might
account for his tendency to retort to his enemies after he's killed them).
Jonah isn't immortal, but he is
quick on the draw, shooting down the lot of lawmen who try to kill him for a
reward. He has the need to destroy edifices after such confrontations, too, as
when he blows up the sheriff's office after the backstab.
Soon after, Aidan Quinn sits in
the Oval Office as President Ulysses S. Grant, and Will Arnett dons a mustache
to play as straight as possible the Army lieutenant the president assigns to get
Jonah on their side.
For, you see, Turnbull has a
MacGuffin. Well, it's not exactly a MacGuffin, because it does things. There's
this weapon, a giant cannon designed by no less than Eli Whitney (Turnbull gives
his goons a brief history lesson on the man, in case anyone in the audience
wasn't paying attention during third grade history class), that shoots large
metal balls followed by a mysterious, glowing orange orb. What these things are,
where they came from, why the Army seems to have them locked up in a safe, and
how Turnbull and his gang know about them are all good questions.
"Megan Fox is like a plastic action figure come to life!"
Other weapons at Jonah's
disposal to fight Turnbull, nicknamed "the Terrorist," are Gatling guns mounted
to his trusty steed and a miniature crossbow that fires sticks of dynamite. The
results are exactly what one would expect from a crossbow that shoots dynamite.
This is a partial list of
elements in Neveldine and Taylor's script that could have been entertaining had
director Jimmy Hayward bypassed that oh-so-common error of ways and recognized
the absurdity in all of this. The casting of Malkovich and Arnett, the tackily
grotesque makeup of Jonah's mug, the talking with the dead, the insane weaponry,
and etc., and etc. suggest that, somewhere down the line, someone realized the
value of a tongue in the cheek.
Instead, there's this version
of the movie, shot in rich, oversaturated colors, as though cinematographer
Mitchell Amundsen took the same approach of its source material and hired a
colorist to fill in the lines. The effect is especially disconcerting on Megan
Fox, who plays Jonah's rough-and-tumble prostitute friend Lilah, who tells one
of her clients that she doesn't like the idea of being owned (There's a rent
joke thankfully or unfortunately missing). Whenever Fox is on screen, she is
seen with an airbrush-like effect, and in her corset and handling guns, it's
almost like a plastic action figure come to life.
The plot is as straightforward
as they come. Jonah has to stop Turnbull before he levels Washington, D.C., on
Independence Day. The screenplay, with a few blatant exceptions of redundant
backstory and a climactic battle aboard an ironclad warship that suffers from
some serious ADD (Jonah fights Turnbull in reality and in a dreamscape of the
near-dead, the capital is in jeopardy, and Lilah tackles a goon), is
to-the-point, and Hayward's crisp pacing makes the movie's short run time feel
exactly as such.
Nothing in Jonah Hex
stands out as especially terrible or particularly worthwhile. It is, once again,
a problem of tone. Why, in the name of all that is campy, can't a movie
featuring a dynamite-loaded crossbow just have some fun?
- Mark Dujsik