STARRING: Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Megan Fox, Michael Fassbender, Will Arnett, Michael Shannon

2010, 80 Minutes, Directed by:
Jimmy Hayward

From the moment Josh Brolin first talks out of the makeup of his eponymous bounty hunter's disfigured face and mouth—a clean string of flesh like sinew where the lips should meet the cheek holding his trap closed just enough that he must speak through gritted teeth—you can feel Jonah Hex struggling to break free of the chains of its oppressive tone.

Then John Malkovich shows up, sporting a relatively subdued (for him) Southern accent, as Jonah's arch nemesis Quentin Turnbull, a former Confederate general who once ordered his son to burn down a church. After the war, we learn, is when he really went off the deep end. Jonah killed Turnbull's son in defiance of the order, which led Turnbull to kill Jonah's wife and son and brand the now disgraced colonel's face, which led Jonah to want to get revenge on his former commanding officer, which leads to a comic-book style prologue detailing all of this. And also how Jonah was so close to death after the attack that he can now commune with the dead (which might account for his tendency to retort to his enemies after he's killed them).

Jonah isn't immortal, but he is quick on the draw, shooting down the lot of lawmen who try to kill him for a reward. He has the need to destroy edifices after such confrontations, too, as when he blows up the sheriff's office after the backstab.

Soon after, Aidan Quinn sits in the Oval Office as President Ulysses S. Grant, and Will Arnett dons a mustache to play as straight as possible the Army lieutenant the president assigns to get Jonah on their side.

For, you see, Turnbull has a MacGuffin. Well, it's not exactly a MacGuffin, because it does things. There's this weapon, a giant cannon designed by no less than Eli Whitney (Turnbull gives his goons a brief history lesson on the man, in case anyone in the audience wasn't paying attention during third grade history class), that shoots large metal balls followed by a mysterious, glowing orange orb. What these things are, where they came from, why the Army seems to have them locked up in a safe, and how Turnbull and his gang know about them are all good questions.

"Megan Fox is like a plastic action figure come to life!"

Other weapons at Jonah's disposal to fight Turnbull, nicknamed "the Terrorist," are Gatling guns mounted to his trusty steed and a miniature crossbow that fires sticks of dynamite. The results are exactly what one would expect from a crossbow that shoots dynamite.

This is a partial list of elements in Neveldine and Taylor's script that could have been entertaining had director Jimmy Hayward bypassed that oh-so-common error of ways and recognized the absurdity in all of this. The casting of Malkovich and Arnett, the tackily grotesque makeup of Jonah's mug, the talking with the dead, the insane weaponry, and etc., and etc. suggest that, somewhere down the line, someone realized the value of a tongue in the cheek.

Instead, there's this version of the movie, shot in rich, oversaturated colors, as though cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen took the same approach of its source material and hired a colorist to fill in the lines. The effect is especially disconcerting on Megan Fox, who plays Jonah's rough-and-tumble prostitute friend Lilah, who tells one of her clients that she doesn't like the idea of being owned (There's a rent joke thankfully or unfortunately missing). Whenever Fox is on screen, she is seen with an airbrush-like effect, and in her corset and handling guns, it's almost like a plastic action figure come to life.

The plot is as straightforward as they come. Jonah has to stop Turnbull before he levels Washington, D.C., on Independence Day. The screenplay, with a few blatant exceptions of redundant backstory and a climactic battle aboard an ironclad warship that suffers from some serious ADD (Jonah fights Turnbull in reality and in a dreamscape of the near-dead, the capital is in jeopardy, and Lilah tackles a goon), is to-the-point, and Hayward's crisp pacing makes the movie's short run time feel exactly as such.

Nothing in Jonah Hex stands out as especially terrible or particularly worthwhile. It is, once again, a problem of tone. Why, in the name of all that is campy, can't a movie featuring a dynamite-loaded crossbow just have some fun?

- Mark Dujsik



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