Directed by: Jimmy Hayward (Horton Hears a Who)
Starring: Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Megan Fox, Michael Fassbender, Michael Shannon, Aidan Quinn
They should have just called it Jonah Hexed and been done with it. This misbegotten movie seems like a compendium of bad ideas and worse execution. Look at this thing. First you take a comic book that’s at best on the B list—probably more like the C list. Then you cast a critically solid, but far from box-office name as your star (Josh Brolin). Then you saddle him with Megan Fox for a romantic lead. As if this weren’t enough, you hire a director with zero experience on this type of project. You wimp out and go for a PG-13 rating, and then you position it against Toy Story 3. Had it been available to him, Max Bialystock in The Producers (1968) would have opted for this as his guaranteed flop rather than Springtime for Hitler.
The truth is that it’s not so much bad as it’s just completely negligible—and it didn’t need to be. The basic premise is sound enough. A vengeance-seeking Confederate soldier turned bounty hunter, Jonah Hex (Brolin), is a good basis for an anti-hero. His disfigurement at the hands of his obviously unhinged and terminally mean nemesis, Turnbull (John Malkovich), adds to the dark tone—as does the gilding-the-lily touch of having Hex further disfigure himself rather than live with Turnbull’s brand. The supernatural element is a little more troublesome, since Hex’s ability to palaver with dead folks is not exactly convincingly established. Still, this is when the film is at its most interesting. Yes, the effects—especially the CGI crows—are less than whelming, but the supernatural segments are the closest thing to style the film has to offer. They’re also the primary thing that captures any sense of a comic book.
Apart from the backstory, the plot is on the skimpy side. In essence, the supposedly dead Turnbull isn’t actually dead. Rather, he is behind a terrorist plot (how trendy) to destroy the U.S. with some super weapon (ostensibly cooked up by a post-cotton gin Eli Whitney) the U.S. decided was too horrible to ever use against humankind. Why didn’t the U.S. just destroy the damned thing and the plans? Well, good God, there’s little enough plot as it is. Anyway, President Grant (Aidan Quinn sporting the most lamentably sparse Ulysses S. Grant whiskers in the history of lamentably sparse spinach) figures that Jonah Hex is just the man to stop the madman terrorist. Except for the really dreary romantic scenes between Hex and hooker girlfriend Lily (the ever-grating Megan Fox), the whole film consists of Hex trying to prevent Turnbull’s evil scheme.
How thin is it? I went to the 12:25 p.m. show. I checked my phone at 1:36 and wondered how this non-story could possibly drag on for another 45 minutes or so. The answer was that it couldn’t. Fifteen minutes later it was over and done with—and I can’t say I was sorry.
While there’s very little that’s actually right with the film, the real culprit here is Jimmy Hayward. If style were rated on a 1-to-10 numerical scale, Hayward would rank somewhere around minus 20. I honestly cannot recall a more perfunctory job of directing. He seems to have shot exactly what was on the page—with no flourish, no embellishment, no sense of fun. If a thing blows up, it blows up in one boring shot from one boring angle. An entire town being blown up ought to be chilling or exciting or anything. Here it just happens. The screenplay by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor isn’t deathless prose, but it offered possibilities for a certain cinematic joie de vivre and there’s none here.
Bottom line: I don’t mind that I sat through it, but I’d never bother sitting through it again, and I certainly don’t recommend wasting money on it. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, disturbing images and sexual content.