Jonah Hex (Brolin) was just your ordinary good old Confederate soldier. You know the kind who didn’t hold with slavery or secessionism, but for some reason feels compelled to fight for the Confederacy anyway. Right up till they start doing some really despicable things; then he turns on his fellow soldiers, getting many of them killed in the process including his best friend. That’s an act his commanding officer (John Malkovich) just can’t abide–plus he was said best friends dad–and after the war he tracks Hex down and exacts his revenge, leaving him scarred, destitute, and with a heart full of hate.
Personally I always felt like Clint Eastwood already did a good version of Jonah Hex (whether he realized it or not) in “The Outlaw Josey Wales” and the “Hex” filmmakers must have thought so too, because they’ve lifted a few conventions from it for their origin. This Hex was also a Confederate soldier who is left scarred and ruined in an act of vengeance after the war. This being a Hollywood summer film, no one’s prepared for the moral conundrum of having a hero who fought for slavery.
So instead we get introductory exposition tying itself into a yoga-master worthy pretzel to explain how he wasn’t a bad Confederate, he picked them arbitrarily and has no problem working hard to save the country later. None of which would be necessary if they didn’t insist on having him wear a Confederate Army outfit for the ENTIRE FILM.
Originally slated to be written and directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (“Crank,” “Gamer”), they left the project before filming over ‘creative differences’ but the effects of their grubby little fingers are still obvious in all of this atrocity.
These are the guys who think there’s no such thing as too over the top, which is how we get a film with repeat action dynamite crossbows and President Grant (Aidan Quinn) offering Hex a job as Sheriff of the United States, a concept so stupid even the characters in the film have to comment on it.
And that is apparently the stuff they put a lot of thought into. Despite having said dynamite crossbow, plus a dual Gatling gun rig he can sling on his horse, that’s not enough so they’ve given him supernatural powers as well. Thanks to his brush with death he can now speak to the dead by touching them, but he can only do so briefly as being out of the ground causes dead people to burn in pain. Don’t ask about that part.
In fact ‘don’t think about it’ is probably the best advice you could take into a viewing of “Jonah Hex” should you be so unfortunate as to see it. That includes the rapid-fire canon with glowing balls of death the evil Trumbull plans to use to destroy Washington during Independence Day festivities. Somewhere, Sergio Leone’s corpse just started crying.
May be its for the best that way, as the stuff they do seem to think is clever and have thought about is even worse. In order to drive home the point that Hex wasn’t REALLY fighting in defense of slavery, his only friend is the black gunsmith (Lance Reddick), conveniently named Smith, who builds his weapons. I’ll leave you to work that particular little gem out on your own.
The thought seems to be to just continually throw a whirlwind of sh*t at the viewer to keep them continually off balance so they don’t notice how badly the seams show. Despite spending a good amount of time at the front explaining how Trumbull died in a hotel fire, robbing Hex of his vengeance and turning him into a bitter loner, not five minutes pass before he shows up again in what passes for dramatic tension in the film.
That’s not the only, or even, most glaring narrative problem in “Jonah Hex” as it takes the expedient of jumping right from beginning to end with no middle. Hex is accosted by the US military to find the missing super weapon and stop Trumbull, and with a minimum of fuss presumes to do so. Actually, this might not be a flaw, as it means there’s that much less of it we’re forced to endure.
For the most part, I can’t fault director Jimmy Hayward (“Horton Hears a Who!”) for this, though I feel like I should. Coming onto his first live-action film, that was already well on its way, he is completely out of his depths here. A more experienced director could have taken what Neveldine & Taylor left for him and produced something worthwhile out of it, but that’s a task that seems beyond Hayward.
The only, only redeeming feature in “Jonah Hex” is Brolin himself. He really does embody Hex, from snarling, surly one-liners to the odd glimpse of real feeling that occasionally shines through. Hex doesn’t particularly like the man he’s become and it does bother him, but there doesn’t seem to be much he can do about it. One scene where he confronts the dead best friend he betrayed and killed is so poignant it almost makes up for the pain you have to deal with to get there. It is a travesty of the first order that Brolin’s performance is wasted in this film.
Everyone else is much closer to “Jonah Hex’s” level. Malkovich is as over the top as only Malkovich can be, Michael Fassbender is ridiculous as his right hand man, and Megan Fox is left with nothing to do but sit in her bordello and sweat until the film’s final minutes. Which is probably for the best, because the small amount of screen time she does share with Brolin makes it impossible to ignore the nearly 20 year age difference between them.
Brolin is certainly capable of making the “Jonah Hex” character work, but no one else seems to be on the same page. The worst comic book film since “Catwoman,” “Jonah Hex” is an extended, accidental detour into camp that would make Joel Schumacher blush. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go burn myself with a red-hot Tomahawk to remove the memory of this film from my mind.