How much can you really say about a film like “Jonah Hex”?
“Jonah Hex” is a total failure as a movie. It seems to have all of the ingredients that would be in a good film… things like costumes and actors and sets and color and sound and scenes and dialogue… but every single one of those things lays there separately, never coming together into a coherent whole. It is inert as a movie from the beginning to the end. It features terrible performances, a script that doesn’t manage even the most basic tasks of storytelling, and it is directed with a near-complete lack of understanding for how a scene works. It is about 80 minutes long, and it feels like four hours. It’s a collection of random incident, and completely tone deaf.
And beyond that… what is there to say?
I visited the set for the film. I went to the press conference with the filmmakers. I interviewed Josh Brolin. I can tell that Brolin, at the very least, was sincere in his desire to make an unconventional and entertaining film, and that he really wanted to figure out how to make Hex into an iconic Western character. For Jimmy Hayward, this was an important film because he was moving from animation into live-action, and based on the evidence of this, I’m not sure I believe he’s got the skill set for live-action. It’s not enough just to stage a scene on a set and capture it on camera. Hayward’s movie never feels like it’s alive. There’s no sense from moment to moment that what you’re watching is all connected. You can practically see the Teamsters standing around off-camera, waiting for the take to be over. It’s perfunctory.
The best example of this is John Malkovich, who offers absolutely nothing in his role as Colonel The Bad Guy. I know he’s got a name, but it might as well just be “The Bad Guy,” because there’s nothing about his performance aside from a fake nose that is memorable. He is hopelessly outclassed by Michael Fassbender, who plays his second-in-command, and that’s because Fassbender seems like he really wants to make a mark as a villain. He’s basically acting in a totally different movie than everyone else, and a much better movie, and it’s a shame the entire movie couldn’t strike the same tone that Fassbender’s peformance does. Seeing someone as good as Malkovich just fold up and quit is dispiriting, but at least watching this film gives me hope that Fassbender will make a great Magneto in “X-Men: First Class.”
The much-discussed score by Mastadon is poorly used and doesn’t really fit the film. I’d have to listen to it separately to be able to fairly discuss it as a piece of music, but as a score? It doesn’t work. It’s another tonal issue. There is a version of “Jonah Hex” where that sort of score might work, but this is not that version. I’m not sure any score could have really helped the film, but it’s certainly not this one that it needs.
Josh Brolin is hampered by the physical requirements of the scar he wears as Jonah Hex, and I like what he had to say about the make-up giving him the right edge to play the curmudgeonly side of Jonah. It’s just not something I see onscreen. It’s great in theory, but in practice, Brolin just seems uncomfortable as he mumbles and drools his lines. Megan Fox, who I don’t hate in theory, is given nothing to do. I’m sure you’ll read critics unload on her, but it’s ridiculous to criticize her performance, since there’s nothing there on the page. She’s a hooker and she likes Jonah Hex. That’s it. No one’s written with any more depth than that, so she’s not the only one who looks stranded here. You’ll see familiar faces like Will Arnett and Michael Shannon flash by, suggesting just how much work has been done on this film and how much recutting and reshooting happened. You’ll see the President of the United States offer Jonah this non-existent job of “Sheriff Of America.” You’ll see magic cannonballs that do… magic stuff. You’ll see Jonah talk to dead people for no particular reason. You’ll see a fight sequence cut so incomprehensibly that I’m not exactly sure what I watched for the last ten minutes of the film.
Of course, all of that assumes you’ll actually see “Jonah Hex,” and I’m hoping that’s not the case. Don’t waste your time. It’s a bad summer, but this pushes “bad” even further than what we’ve already seen this year. It’s not a fun 80 minutes you can laugh at, either. It’s just a drag, a big pile of failed ambition, and I suspect this is the last time we’ll see Warner Bros. try to foist this particular character on the mainstream. It really just boils down to two words with this one, two sad, undeniable words. Yes, it’s true… “Jonah” sux.
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