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Notes On A DVD: Jonah Hex

Is Jonah Hex one of the worst movies with a decent cast of actors ever? Josh Brolin as Hex, John Malkovitch as Quentin Turnbull (the villain of the piece), the awesome Michael Fassbender, Will Arnett in a straight role (although I do feel sorry for him – he’s a good actor but he’s an electric comedy actor and you always expect him to do something funny when he’s on screen), Michael Shannon, Lance Reddick (Cedric Daniels in The Wire, in a small and thankless role here to show that Hex isn’t a racist despite fighting for the south in the Civil War), Aidan Quinn, an uncredited Jeffrey Dean Morgan – all of them now have this to stain their CVs. Admittedly, it’s got Megan Fox being useless in it, but that doesn’t take away from fact that good actors made a bad choice.

The film is only 81 minutes long with credits – not a good sign – and I was expecting a host of deleted scenes on the DVD, but there were only a few and half of them were different versions of scenes in the film, so it makes you wonder what was going on behind the scenes. The director had worked in animation before this (his directorial debut was Horton Hears A Who) and seems to have no grasp on the material or the atmosphere necessary for the concept to work. Originally, Neveldine and Taylor (of Crank fame, and the Ghost Rider sequel – see later) were on board to direct but left due to ‘creative differences’, but the film still uses their screenplay, which seems to miss the point of the Hex character.

I haven’t read much Jonah Hex but even I know that he doesn’t have the ability to temporarily raise the dead and talk to them. I have no idea where that comes from – in the comic books, Hex is an ordinary man (apart from the disfiguring scar and amazing marksmanship) in the West after the Civil War who becomes a bounty hunter. It’s a very odd choice, as if the idea of having a comic book film without the lead character having some sort of power is unimaginable. It’s not as odd a choice as having Malkovitch’s character steal a ‘superweapon’ (a giant six-barrelled cannon that fires delay-action bomb shells that are then activated by a trigger shell) that he puts on an ironclad warship to destroy the president and the White House on the 4th of July (because that’s the sort of thing that crazy Confederates do).

This is a real mess of a film. Brolin looks like Hex but his voice sounds like a comedy impersonation of Billy Bob Thornton in Slingblade. The soundtrack is an overpowering and inappropriate noise by a heavy metal band. Good actors are wasted in unmemorable nonsense, and nobody comes out of this well. And I can’t work out the ‘tart with a heart’ aspect: it’s an embarrassing compromise for a mainstream film to have the straight hero involved in a relationship (and have someone to rescue, although the female character is also able to shoot a gun and kill henchmen because, hey, Girl Power) and walk away at the end of the film (sorry if I’ve spoiled the film for you), but after the film does this, the next scene has Hex visit a cemetery to talk to a dead friend (but not using his power) and then riding off without the girl. Where has she disappeared to in between this and the last scene? Surely the point was to finish the film with them walking away? What was the point of the epilogue scene? A confused, noisy, disappointing melange that gives comic book films a bad name.

Rating: D

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