Friday, June 24, 2011

Jonah Hex

I never had high expectations for Jonah Hex.  While I usually enjoy comic book movies, this one looked really, really bad.   When it absolutely failed with critics and viewers alike, I was not surprised at all.  I was, however, shocked when the star of the film, Josh Brolin, repeatedly trashed (but also defended) Hex while promoting his next movie.
That kind of honesty and optimism did two things for me.  First, it made me wish I liked Josh Brolin more.  He's okay, I guess, but his presence in a movie is never what makes me want to watch it.  Second, it made me curious as to how entertaining Jonah Hex could be if I approached it like Brolin suggested, with similar expectations as I had for Piranha.  Hell, it couldn't be worse than I expected, even with Megan Fox acting in it.  Right...?
Hey, got something on your face.  No, the other side.

In the Civil War, Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) fought for the Confederacy, but he was not a zealot.  When his commanding officer, Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich), ordered for a Union hospital to be burned down, Hex refused.  This led to a confrontation  with the other men in his unit, which eventually led to Hex gunning down Turnbull's adult son (and Hex's best friend), Jeb (an uncredited Jeffrey Dean Morgan).  After the war, Quentin tracked down Hex, tied him up and forced him to watch as his men murdered Hex's wife and child.  Before he left, Turnbull branded Hex on the face and left him to die of exposure.  Hex was found, mostly dead, by an Indian tribe, who nursed him back to health.  However, his brush with death left him with an ability to speak to the dead.  So...that's something.  Turnbull was allegedly killed in a house fire a short while later, so Hex became a bounty hunter and took out his rage on some of the worst men in the Wild West.
Oh, and he had a horse-mounted Gatling gun.
One day, Hex is approached by representatives from the U.S. Government to come and meet President Ulysses S. Grant (Aidan Quinn) about a job.  Hex, being an ornery type, isn't impressed by Mr. President until he states that Quentin Turnbull is not only alive, but actively planning to destroy the country within the next few days.  I wonder if the revenge-fueled antihero will seek out his most hated enemy?

After typing that summary, I realized that this movie doesn't really sound so bad on paper.  No, it doesn't sound great, but not as bad as people made it out to be during its theatrical release (13% Rotten Tomatoes rating and a Metacritic score of 33). Sure, the whole talking-to-the-dead thing is weird, but it's not a deal breaker by any means.

Maybe the acting is what sinks this ship?  Well, Josh Brolin is surprisingly good as Jonah Hex.  He would have been even better if his facial makeup didn't cause him to slur some of his lines.  John Malkovich was surprisingly mediocre as the hate-filled Turnbull; Malkovich usually has fun with evil characters, but he didn't really come across as very interested in this movie.  Michael Fassbender played the main henchman to Turnbull and did what I presume is his best impression of Jim Carrey's Riddler.  He was certainly goofy, but even the ridiculous goatee-tattoos never made him scary.
This is why you don't pass out at tattoo parties.
That leaves us with Megan Fox.  Yeah...she's not a very good actress and she takes lines that are supposed to be sassy or cool and she sucks the personality out of them.  On the bright side, she plays a shockingly clean and fit Wild West prostitute (who, of course, loves the disfigured hero), so at least she's flaunting what has made her career thus far.

The rest of the supporting cast is a collection of bit parts, played by recognizable actors.  Will Arnett plays a soldier, and his presence implies that the filmmakers were aware of the funny-bad possibilities in the script.  Michael Shannon, the third Oscar nominee in this cast, had a tiny role, as did Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and they were both fine.  Wes Bentley, who I thought (after seeing American Beauty) had a bright career ahead of him, gives one of the least impressive performances in the movie.  No wonder I haven't seen him in anything in over a decade.  I wasn't impressed by Aidan Quinn's President Grant, but that might have been because I wanted him to be drunk and make really poor decisions.  I was happy to see television actor Lance Reddick playing something other than a lawyer or police officer for a change.  He wasn't great, but I appreciated the atypical casting.

I'm not going to blame this movie on the director, Jimmy Hayward, even though this is his first live-action feature film --- he's worked as an animator on a few Pixar movies and directed Horton Hears a Who, which naturally makes him the best director for a comic book-based Western.  He didn't do a good job directing, mind you.  The acting was limited and the cinematography was mediocre, and that's if I'm being generous to both.  His editing was awful and there is some sort of recurring waking dream sequence that was pretty incomprehensible, but I will give him credit where it's due: the movie is short.  It's 81 minutes with credits.  Not just anyone would choose to put most of a character's back story into an animated form, but it cut out an awful lot of acting time from the movie, and for that, I thank him.
Nothing clever is said in this scene.

 The biggest problem with Jonah Hex is the ridiculous story.  That shouldn't come as a surprise, since this movie was written by Neveldine/Taylor, the writing team that brought us such think pieces as Gamer and the Crank movies.  Man, this is a dumb script.  Fox and Brolin have at least half of their lines devoted to quips, and they're all pretty bad.  Brolin gets away with some because he's devoted to his character's intended bad-assness, but Fox...she couldn't deliver a smart line if it came with paid postage.  Aww, snap!  Mail carrier humor!  **ahem**  Even without the dialogue problems, this is a bizarrely written movie.  Why does any Western bad-ass need gadgets?  The horse-mounted Gatling gun was ridiculous, the automatic dynamite crossbows were just silly, and the villainous "nation killer" weapon was simply bizarre.  And what was with all the explosions?  This is the 1870s --- I can buy gunfire starting a fire, but huge explosions every time?  That's just dumb.  Oh, and that weird Jonah-Hex-talks-to-the-dead thing?  And the weird crow spirit stuff?  Yeah, not in the comics at all.  Hex could have just been a smart bad-ass, but instead, he was given supernatural crow/death powers by the writers.  That may not have been the best choice.

And while this movie is very bad, it is stupid enough to enjoy.  That's not terribly shocking, given the writing team.  If you're looking for a good action movie, a fun comic book adaptation, or a cool Western, this is not the movie for you.
 If, on the other hand, you feel like laughing at something ridiculous and ridiculing a movie, this is a decent choice --- but by no means a great one.  If nothing else, this is the stupidest Western I have seen in ages, but at least it's short.  I give it a Lefty Gold rating of

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