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JONAH HEX (2010) (*1/2)

I went into this film knowing only the basics about the title character. Jonah Hex is a severely scarred bounty hunter with some supernatural abilities. His family was murdered. The film didn’t really expand my knowledge and in some ways confused me even more. At 80 some minutes, there were times I thought I was watching a reel of the cut scenes from the JONAH HEX videogame.

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I went into this film knowing only the basics about the title character. Jonah Hex is a severely scarred bounty hunter with some supernatural abilities. His family was murdered. The film didn’t really expand my knowledge and in some ways confused me even more. At 80 some minutes, there were times I thought I was watching a reel of the cut scenes from the JONAH HEX videogame.

The film begins with Hex (Josh Brolin, MILK) voicing a montage of his time fighting for the Confederacy. He explains why war suited him and why that changed. Then the story jarringly cuts to Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich, BURN AFTER READING) burning Hex's family alive and branding his former soldier as he explains that he's doing so because Hex betrayed him and murdered his son, who was Hex's best friend. Then we jarringly cut to what seems like an excerpt from the JONAH HEX motion comic filling us in on how Hex nearly died, gained some powers, has something to do with crows and that Turnbull presumably died in a fire. For all intents and purposes, the first act of the film is simply told to the viewer instead of shown.

The story begins to show us events in a scene where Hex delivers the bodies of men he was assigned to kill. A gunfight ensues and enemies pop up in clock towers and out of coffins like it’s a shooting gallery. It's also the first of many times Hex rides away with an explosion behind him. He has a thing for dramatic getaways. Turns out, Turnball is not dead. How he survived I can't say if it was even explained. President Grant (Aidan Quinn, BENNY & JOON) fears that the Confederate general is building a doomsday device originally conceived by Eli Whitney. The Commander in Chief knows Hex will want revenge so he's the perfect man to hire to save America.

The rest of the film is simply Hex moving from one set piece to the next in search of Turnbull and his weapon. The narrative is so truncated that one rarely knows the connection of one character to the next. Only two other characters emerge — prostitute Lilah (Megan Fox, TRANSFORMERS) and Turnbull's Irish right hand assassin Burke (Michael Fassbender, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS). While the story tries to develop Lilah as a tough independent woman, she turns simply into a damsel in distress/last minute sidekick. There's an episode with an obsessive client that ends dramatically, but leads to no ramifications. Fox is not given more than she was given with the robots. Fassbender shows why he's a hot actor in Hollywood at the moment. He gives the tattooed thug some personality. During a train heist, I liked how he casually whistles a tune as he prepares to blow a ton of dynamite.

As for the other characters, who knows? TV's Luke Duke, aka actor Tom Wopat, shows up as Confederate colonel Slocum. He's at some underground fight club where a lizard man fights some guy. If you blink you'll miss Oscar nominee Michael Shannon (REVOLUTIONARY ROAD) as Doc Cross Williams. Had to look up that character name. AMERICAN BEAUTY's Wes Bentley plays Adlman Lusk, some guy who has something that Turnbull needs. Funnyman Will Arnett (BLADES OF GLORY) has the all-too-serious role of Lt. Grass, some soldier Pres. Grant talks to in the Oval Office. And don't forget FRINGE's Lance Reddick, a kind of African-American Q, who supplies fancy weapons to Hex and the modern audience a reason for forgiving the scared guy for fighting for the Confederates. Oh, and don't forget the magic Indians who are far better than any Calvary in a crisis.

Because the film doesn't take a lick of time to set up any character in the first act, every scene that follows is void of emotional connection. One of Hex's powers is to reanimate the dead and speak with them. He has a heart to heart with Turnbull's son, but it means nothing because it's the first time we've ever seen Turnbull's son. If the crux of the whole story is Hex getting revenge for the murder of his wife and son, you got to give us more than one scene where Lilah names Hex's scars to make us care about their relationship. And a brief flashback two-thirds into the film of Hex with his family is a little too late in the game to create any emotional engagement.

Even on a technical level, the film seems to betray the story. Scenes are cut so abruptly that one loses the sense of time and place within the movie. Visually the film looks good, but too often, Fox is airbrushed so much that one thinks you've gone back to the days of Vaseline on the lens. Explosions and supernatural effects need characters behind them, not just galloping away in front of them. The film is so obsessed with its razzle-dazzle that one closing fight scene isn't enough, so it's intercut with a fantasy fight scene as well.

I had high hopes for this one. I like Brolin and he's good in it. I was hoping for an iconic supernatural Western. The elements seem there for that to be the case, but the film doesn't seem interested in telling that story. Or any story at all.

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Rick DeMott
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