One of the downsides of the summer blockbuster season is that films that normally would merit an R-rating, and a hard one at that, get gutted down to a PG-13 to make it more commercial. Some films make that transition easy and others, like Jonah Hex, prove that not all films can be toned down and still be good films. Hex doesn’t even measure up to being perfectly acceptable entertainment.
Following the titular character (Josh Brolin), a Confederate soldier turned bounty hunter in the period following the Civil War, Jonah Hex is a supernaturally themed western based off the comic book character of the same name. When his former commanding officer, Turnbull (John Malkovich), decides to create his own nation-destroying weapon and unleash it upon Washington, D.C, during the first centennial celebration, it’s up to Hex and his prostitute girlfriend (Megan Fox) to save the day.
Scripted by Crank duo Neveldine & Taylor, Jonah Hex feels like one of their films but without the zealous nature that drives that franchise (and drove Gamer). That’s because the duo only scripted the film after having also been in talks to direct it as well. Jimmy Hayward, making his live action debut after helming animated hit Horton Hears a Who, seems to have a difficult job of taking material from a writer/director team and transforming it into his own. The result is an erratic pace and an atmosphere that tends to fluctuate from serious to campy. Coupled with extensive reshoots of the film and there’s no real strong narrative to the film.
It feels like the discarded pieces of a better film; Hayward does an admirable job with someone else’s material but one only imagines the sort of dark, twisted film the Crank boys had in mind. It seems as if Hayward has a different idea on what he wants Hex to be with a script that is going in a different direction and this is a bad combination of the two. The films like it wants to be a hard R rated film, with lots of horror film level violence coupled in a story about revenge coupled with the supernatural, and settles for appearing to be a hard R but being a soft PG-13 instead.
That aspect cripples the film because Jonah Hex has all the atmosphere and feel of a dark, disturbed film. Hayward may not be overly acquainted with action sequences but it’s the one thing he gets absolutely perfect; they may not mean anything when connected to the plot but he crafts one mechanically sound action sequence after another. They lack the pizzazz and emotional connection that they would in a better film, as well as the violence a more mature film would have, but they aren’t without merit.
It’s a shame, really, because Josh Brolin does admirable work as the disfigured anti-hero. Hex is a complicated guy, wanting freedom but always finding himself back in the arms of a hard-working prostitute half his age. Brolin, sometimes barely able to be understood because of the amount of makeup on his face, has all the physical tools and appearance of a menacing cowboy. He just deserves to be in a better film. Unfortunately he’s the only bright part in an underused cast.
Considering his experience in better action films, John Malkovich completely mails in his performance as Hex’s antagonist. This is a shallow imitation of a villain from an actor who has done better ones in better films, most particularly as Cyrus the Virus in Con Air. In a film that could use a better villain to at least make the film interesting, Malkovich is about as good as the material provided to him. The rest of the cast fares no better; comedian Will Arnett and established character actor Aidan Quinn are given thankless roles while Academy Award nominee Michael Shannon has a “blink and you miss it” cameo early on. It’s better than Megan Fox, who shows the same level of stiffness that she did in the Transformers franchise.
Jonah Hex had the makings of a disaster from all of its off-set controversies and turned out to be even worse than expected.
Director: Jimmy Hayward Notable Cast: Josh Brolin, Megan Fox, John Malkovich, Will Arnett, Michael Fassbender Writer(s): Neveldine & Taylor (Screenplay), Willam Farmer (Story), John Albano and Tony Dezuniga (Characters)