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Jonah Hex: It’s Bad… But Not as Bad as the Hype

Judging by Jonah Hex’s flopping with the critics and audiences, I naturally couldn’t wait to see it in order to continue to dogpile on it and write something scathing and nasty. However, after leaving the theater, I wondered why literally no one liked it. Yes, it’s definitely bad, that goes without saying. A lot of it is very silly– not just the dialogue, but the entire idea and execution of the plot are at times laughable. Yet the visuals are fairly sleek, and the performances by most of the main actors are perfectly executed, reaching the appropriate levels of hamminess that help carry a comic book film of this nature. Sure, it’s not a good movie… but unlike Prince of Persia or Robin Hood, this film is not pretentious, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and it doesn’t really disappoint. But then again, maybe those other films suffered from having commercials that fooled you into thinking it might be good, thus giving you expectations that then were let down.

There was a Confederate soldier by the name of Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin), who was the meanest, rootinest, tootinest, gun-shootinest man in the South. Unfortunately, when he killed his best friend Jeb, Jeb’s father, Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich) got revenge by killing Jonah’s wife and son and branding Jonah’s face. Flash forward several years later: Turnbull was killed in a hotel fire and Jonah has been working as a bounty hunter since. When he nearly died after being branded, he gained the ability to talk to the dead by touching them. As he find out, Turnbull might not be as dead as everyone thought… and like most maniacal Malkovich villains, he’s planning on destroying the country with a superweapon invented by Eli Whitney and then hidden by the government. Yes, you read that last sentence correctly. The government finds Jonah with his faithful hooker, Lila (Megan Fox), are enlists him to hunt down Turnbull, save the country, and finally have his revenge.

It’s enormously obvious why this movie is a flop– the entire premise is silly, even by science fiction movie standards. There are several familiar elements at play here: the cowboy out for vengeance, the John Malkovich villain out to destroy the world for no real reason, the hooker with the heart of gold, the near-death experience giving a man magical powers, the hero that just won’t die, the destructive superweapon made by the inventor of the cotton gin and then covered up by the government. Okay, scratch the last part. However, when all are combined, it raises questions. Hex kills Turnbull’s son, an officer in his own army, and then is happily hanging out with his wife and kid at home– didn’t he know something bad would happen to him? How did Turnbull find out about this top secret weapon? Why does Megan Fox inexplicably love the ugly mean and murderous Jonah Hex who is clearly much older than her? Is prostitution literally the only job available to women in Westerns? There are only two types of women in this entire film: loving mothers… and hookers.

Okay, so the film wasn’t well thought out. Then why am I not trashing it harder? Because they did a couple of things right in the making of this film. They put some great actors who know how to deliver this dialogue. John Malkovich can do this role in his sleep, and he attacks his dialogue and his southern accent like a wild animal. Michael Fassbender, who’s amassing quite a resume for himself, steals the show as the Irish, derby-sporting, knife-wielding #2 to Turnbull, cackling psychotically and twisting every phrase beautifully. Josh Brolin manages to make Jonah, who could have easily been humorous and brooding, rather funny; when explaining why the reincarnating dead burn up in the sun unless dirt is put on their bodies, he says, “Dead like dirt, dirt like dead. Simple as that.”… and he finds the silliness in the line and somehow makes it work. Good character actors can sell this kind of campy material (Megan Fox doesn’t fare as well, far more comfortable in this film during the action scenes than in the acting). The effects, for the most part, are fine, and the cinematography makes the film look sleek and compelling.

The smartest choice, however, is likely the one that made this film so disposable to the critics– it’s very short, roughly 75 minutes long. Would critics have preferred a slower-paced Jonah Hex, or to have to sit in their seats observing this foolishness for another hour? They knew what they were getting into, saw the way the movie was shaping up in the editing room, and figured that the way to fix it as much as they could would be to trim literally all of the fat and make it as quick-paced as possible. Is this tantamount to film suicide? Sure, I suppose. It is a way for the studio to tell you in a not-so-discreet way, “Our movie sucks.” While it’s definitely not good, there’s a camp value to this film that inches it more toward redemption than absolute failure. This is the type of movie that if it comes on cable TV in a couple of years on a lazy Sunday, you can leave on and enjoy with a laugh over some lunch. It doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not, nor does it take itself too seriously. In the aftermath of the recent Batman revivals, we’ve now seen a rash of action movies which take themselves very seriously. Jonah Hex is a throwback– a movie that’s utterly disposable but good for a couple of chuckles and thrills. The studio is paying a big price for these couple of chuckles and thrills… but I can safely say I’d watch this again before Prince of Persia any day of the week. Malkovich alone almost guarantees that.

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~ by russellhainline on June 30, 2010.

One Response to “Jonah Hex: It’s Bad… But Not as Bad as the Hype”

  1. Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich.

    You’re conclusion is what i tolds ya you shouldve done in the first place: watch it at home with some pizza and beer.
    I wanna see the film, but I’d rather spend the $9.75 ticket price on a frozen Totino’s pizza and a six-pack o’ Amber Bock. Dag.

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