Jonah Hex is such an obscure character to comics outsiders — and one of my absolute favorites — that part of me still can’t believe they’ve made a movie based on him. Too bad they didn’t try harder. Turns out the bad buzz about its rumored plagued production is true: “Jonah Hex” is a mess.
Josh Brolin plays Hex, our favorite former Confederate soldier turned bounty hunter. He has the look down, with that god-awful scar on half his face; I have to give the filmmakers credit for plastering his pretty mug with that ghastly makeup, but I guess giving Brolin Hex’s one popped eye was a line they didn’t wish to cross.
“Jonah Hex” opens with an animated credit sequence that serves as a quasi-origin. It looks nothing like the comic, save for the logo, and is so cheaply done that it’s embarrassing, getting the flick off to a none-too-promising start from which it never recovers.
Hex is called into military service by his country, at the order of President Grant (Aidan Quinn). Proto-terrorist Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich) — the man who killed Hex’s family, branded his face, and then was thought to be dead — has developed some sort of super-cannon that can level entire towns. (Mind you, in this movie, towns are quite small. You’ll notice throughout how sets are extremely limited in scope.) Turnbull’s likely target is America’s 100th birthday celebration in Washington, D.C.
On his way to locating Turnbull, Hex attends a pit fight, where one of the contestants is a snake man whose jaw extends to spit deadly venom. Such creatures aren’t found in the comics. In his transition from page to screen, Hex himself has been imbued with supernatural powers: He can talk to the dead by touching their corpses. I didn’t hate this because it’s untrue to the character; I hated it because it serves no real purpose.
Speaking of, “Transformers” hussy Megan Fox is cast as Lilah, a prostitute and surrogate love interest, just so Hex can have someone to save in the final act. Fox is a terrible actress, so the less she has to say, the better. And everything she says sounds like it’s coming from the mouth of Katy Mixon’s character in “Eastbound & Down.”
The script by “Crank” guys Neveldine & Taylor is so shallow, secondary characters appear without being properly introduced, and then disappear without making any impression. (When the end credits arrived, I said, “Wait, Michael Shannon was in it?”) It’s all patched together in a way that it feels not like a major-studio feature, but some straight-to-video thing that used to serve as the Friday-night premiere on Cinemax in the mid-’90s. Including credits, the movie clocks in at a mere 80 minutes, barely qualifying as a feature. At that length, you wonder why they didn’t just go the TV route, write it off as a “pilot” and call it a day.
It’s not so bad that I wish the film ill will, but it’s sure not good. I suspect there’s an R-rated version out there that would merit it one more star. The worst part about “Jonah Hex” is how negatively it will reflect upon the often-great source material. Those renting the movie who might be interested in checking out the comics (and a 10-minute featurette in the extras is devoted to this topic) are likely to have changed their mind by the end. And that’s a shame. —Rod Lott