Jonah Hex Adaptation Sputters and Stalls
- Christian Hamaker Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2010 18 Jun
DVD Release Date: October 12, 2010
Theatrical Release Date: June 18, 2010
Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of action and violence, disturbing images and sexual content)
Genre: Action, Western, Adaptation
Run Time: 80 min.
Director: Jimmy Hayward
Actors: Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Megan Fox, Aidan Quinn, Michael Fassbender, Will Arnett, Tom Wopat
There's a hex on 2010's summer movies, as one film after another has disappointed and underperformed. Even by the lax standards of summer moviegoing, this year's crop has been a letdown for audiences, who have found other ways to spend their money and time.
Jonah Hex, a DC Comics adaptation, doesn't reverse the trend. The film has all the ingredients of a strong summer movie—it features a rising star (Josh Brolin, of No Country for Old Men and American Gangster) in the title role and Transformers It-Girl Megan Fox. Add John Malkovich to give it some serious-actor cred, and the on-screen energy should be combustible. But Jonah Hex is far from it.
The film starts well enough, paying homage to its comic roots and finding an appropriate tone as it lays out the back story of Hex (Brolin). He's a wronged man in the immediate post-Civil War era who has suffered great personal loss, and who has grown disillusioned by the war he saw all around him. Now a bounty hunter, Hex's skills prove attractive to the president, Ulysses S. Grant (Aidan Quinn), who needs Hex's skills to find Quentin Turnbull (Malkovich).
Turnbull is intent on destabilizing the fragile union after the war, but Hex has his own uncertainties about his nation. "Your country needs you," says the man assigned to bring Hex in. "Ain't my country," Hex responds, claiming that the Union and Confederacy were both full of hypocrites.
Hex has seen too much killing and has the scars—both emotional and physical—to show it. His facial disfigurement came at the hands of Turnbull, who has turned his destructive sights onto a larger target. Consumed by a hatred of the Union, he sets out to kill the president using futuristic weapons of mass destruction. Apparently only one man can stop him.
Jonah Hex was a problem-plagued production that went through several directors and reshoots. It's difficult to envision from the final product what the film might have been if it hadn't been truncated (at 80 minutes, this is one of the shortest U.S. major releases in memory). As it stands, the movie chugs along for about 45 minutes in watchable, if not particularly edifying, fashion. It has some stylistic flair that suits its revisionist-Western genre trappings—an antihero who lives by his own code, the prostitute (Fox) he cares for and the protagonist's unwillingness to settle down. ("Anyone who gets close to me dies," he tells his lover, expressing a basic truth about all Western gunslingers).
The story also is unique in Hex's ability to ascertain key information in his pursuit of Turnbull. Without giving too much away, it's safe to say that Hex's ability to communicate with certain parties is far from explicable and raises obvious theological questions. (Fans of TV's Pushing Daisies may be reminded of that beloved program, which, unlike Jonah Hex, was consigned to obscurity far too soon.)
The film falters when it begins to spend time on Turnbull rather than with Hex. The villain simply isn't as compelling a figure as Hex, and Malkovich can do only so much with the character. Worse is the film's abandonment of coherency about two-thirds of the way through its brief running time. The story rushes toward its finale without a proper buildup, depriving viewers of the sense of the high stakes involved in the film's climactic clash. Lots of explosions can't compensate for the numbing predictability of the outcome.
Most of the elements of a successful film were in place for Jonah Hex. The blame may lie with screenwriters Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (Gamer, Crank), but the film has been cut so severely that it's hard to know whether the original script was the main problem the filmmakers were trying to overcome.
Let's hope for better things in the future from everyone involved with this project. You're better off spending your movie dollars elsewhere.
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Language/Profanity: Lord's name taken in vain; some foul language.
Smoking/Drinking/Drugs: Jonah drinks; a fighter in a ring has an unidentified liquid in a bottle poured into his mouth.
Sex/Nudity: A prostitute is Hex's lover, and she fights off other men during the film; kissing and scenes of Hex and her in bed, on top of each other, but no nudity is shown.
Violence/Crime: War violence, including several men shooting each other; a home is burned with a woman and child inside it; Hex's face is branded; shootouts and explosions; a train is blown up; Turnbull uses destructive weapons to wipe out an entire village and its inhabitants, and to attack the government; a corpse is struck with a shovel; a woman stabs a man; a knife is put to a woman's throat, but she fights back; a man is shot in the head, just out of frame; a man is pushed into a whirring propeller; a boat is blown up.
Religion: Hex is hung on a wooden cross of sorts and forced to watch his family and home burn; corpses are reanimated temporarily, and one says that people on the other side are waiting for Hex; a Native American healing ritual; discussion of the characteristics of a man with vengeance in his heart.