When making a feature film based on a Western horror comic, it probably isn’t the best idea to remove it from the Old West, sanitize the horrific bits, and mistake the term “comic” for the funny kind.
Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) was a Confederate solder following the orders of his commanding officer Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich) right up until he was told to start killing innocents. His rebellion caused the death of Turnbull’s son, so Turnbull took it upon himself to take revenge by killing Hex’s family and branding him. Found half dead by a local Native American tribe, Hex was nursed back to health but brought something back from the other side with him: the ability to talk to the dead. His nemesis Turnbull died in a fire long before Hex could catch up to take revenge, leaving him a wanted man collecting bounties on other criminals when not visiting his favorite prostitute, Lilah (Megan Fox.) But faster than you can say “Eli Whitney,” Turnbull turns out to be still alive and putting together a weapon of mass destruction in time for the United States first centennial, and none other than the President wants to hire Hex to stop the rogue commander Hex would have gone after for free…
Somewhere in all this mess is a character called Jonah Hex in desperate search for a movie to star in. As an ex-Confederate soldier with one foot in the grave and a spooky way about him, Josh Brolin does his best to bring the gunfighter to life off the page, but he is foiled at every turn with a plot positioned to sound more important than the main character. John Malkovich chews all the scenery he can to create a memorable villain while Megan Fox barely has enough back story to justify being born into the script. Perhaps if other characters avoided Hex rather than confronted him or if the story was about two men taking revenge in one another, then maybe something could have come of all this. As it is, the trailer’s tell the tale: it’s a mess.
First of all ,the film should have been rated R and let the blood and violence out (the same thing could be said about Ghost Rider, too, by the way.) The idea and angle that Jonah can speak to the dead and that the dead are watching the living could have been played up to be a lot creepier, working the omens of a half-dead gunfighter into a Western ghost story. Even following the example of a film like High Plains Drifter might have given the story and character an edge plus a degree of validity. But perhaps the truth is simpler: no one is left in Hollywood who knows how to direct a Western let alone a good ghost story.
With a character as little known to mass audiences as Jonah Hex, the studio could have invented anything they wanted, but it feels as if they chose to loot merely the interesting elements without committing any time to exploring them. While the rickety overplot of building an impossible doomsday weapon sets the scene by working as many explosions into the story as possible, you’d almost think Michael Bay had a hand in this somewhere (which might also go a long ways toward explaining any good reason why Megan Fox is in the film at all.) As a summer blockbuster, Jonah Hex is too little, too late, and too obscure for a big budget mass audience vehicle, leaving DC comics fans with another reason to be envious of Marvel Entertainment’s recent do-no-wrong box office success.
(a half skull recommendation out of four)