If, like most people, you’d never heard of the character before, ‘Jonah Hex’ is that huge-ass Hollywood movie based on a coveted comic book property that opened this past Friday and tanked over the weekend. I could have seen an advance screening if I wanted to, but waited until the weekend anyway. Really, I couldn’t be bothered to see it early since I knew it was going to be awful. Just how awful is it?
I’ll start out with something positive: Josh Brolin comes away from this thing not looking like a complete asshole. Which really is a positive. As the aggressive ex-Confederate solider-cum-bounty-hunter, he snarls with the best of them. The fact that he can even produce a performance at all under his “burned skin” makeup, which looks like a wad of chewed bubblegum and obscures much of the right side of his face, is sort of a miracle. The fact that he does it while so much noisy nonsense is going on elsewhere in the movie is an almost unthinkable accomplishment. And I guess Michael Fassbender is pretty good too, as a heavily tattooed goon. Okay, the section of this review where I say good things about ‘Jonah Hex’ is officially over.
The movie is a mess. It’s an absolutely incomprehensible mess. While most of you may be saying, “Duh,” just from having seen the limp trailer and television commercials, the problem runs much deeper than that. The movie had a rushed and frenzied production fraught with problems. The screenwriters and original directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (the “geniuses” behind ‘Crank‘) left the movie over creative differences. That’s when Jimmy Hayward, who only had animation experience under his belt, was hired as a replacement. Things went pretty much downhill from there. How downhill? Well, at some point during the massive 60 pages of reshoots – more than half the movie, for those playing at home – Francis Lawrence (director of ‘Constantine‘ and ‘I Am Legend‘) was brought in to “consult” (i.e. “replace”) Hayward. The result equals the most muddled and aimless 71 minutes of my entire life. Yes, the movie is 71 minutes long without credits. And it feels like an eternity.
Scenes abruptly begin and end without reason or provocation. Scenes of Jonah riding his horse are thrown in willy nilly, and given to us without thematic or geographical explanation. The movie sets up a scenario about Hex being mutilated by his former Confederate (played listlessly by John Makovich) that has clearly been shot. But then it relays that backstory entirely in voiceover. The movie cuts away, often, to an imaginary fight between our hero and villain, which has little bearing on the plot. There’s not one but two endings, both of which suck. The action is so choppy and frenetic, you’ll have a hard time figuring out what’s going on, much less caring about what happens on screen.
Rarely has a film based on a comic book property (and a great arc by horror author Joe R. Lansdale) been brought to life with such little texture or passion. “Hey, we tried some stuff, and it’s all up there on the screen,” the filmmakers seem to be saying. It’s like we’ve been given a glimpse into the editing of the film and are forced to deduce what happened in the original version of the movie, what was expanded and what has been jettisoned altogether. It’s kind of fun to think about the ‘Jonah Hex’ that almost was. What, for instance, is Michael Shannon doing in a fleeting circus scene? WHO KNOWS? This guessing game might be a good distraction during the long stretches of the movie that make no sense or are completely boring, but it’s not enough to save ‘Jonah Hex.’
It’s a movie, like its hero, scarred beyond all recognition.