Saturday, June 19, 2010

Dead on arrival: Jonah Hex

A long time ago, in the days before plastic surgery, confederate super-solider Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) sees his family roasted alive at the hands of the super-evil Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich) before being left dangling from a cross with a nasty facial disfigurement that will make the consumption of beverages forever cumbersome. As the days pass Hex gets so close to expiry that even when the noble Crow Indians revive him he retains the ability to converse with the dead, a gruesome parlor trick that comes in handy in his new vocation as half-zombie bounty hunter. So
Johan Hex is a supernatural western of sorts, based on the DC comic that I only remember because my uncle Ricky used to give me his copies after he’d read them, along with his old Sgt. Rocks. (Is it just me, or did only middle-aged bachelors buy all those war and western comics back in the 1980s?)

Jonah Hex was directed by the guy who brought us Horton Hears a Who. It was written by William Farmer and the guys behind the Crank franchise, which is only slightly more indicative as to what’s in store. Jonah Hex is about as dumb as the Crank movies, and it shares the Crank movies’ particular brand of exaggerated, cartoonish violence, yet it has nothing of the go-for-broke audacity or absurd digressions that arguably distinguish the Cranks somewhat from the rest of your sub-Guy Ritchie actioners. There’s not much going on in Jonah Hex, which results in its merciful brevity—it runs about an hour-twenty—yet also results in a paucity of characterization that renders the potentially colourful leads one-dimensional and shuttles those handy Crow Indians so far into the background as to make them crude functionaries, yet another variation on the “magical negro,” merely happy to help the white hero along his journey before dissolving back into the woods.

The score could be described as Metallica meets Morricone, though once having met they apparently have to say to one another. Even under rubber Brolin maintains charisma, yet he really has little to do other than grunt and take heaps of punishment. Malkovich has a new funny wig to add to his collection but otherwise is unremarkable in another payday villain role. Megan Fox plays the prostitute who apparently spends her free time at the rifle range and it’s true she has very nice legs. Her close-ups however are only one of many shots in the movie that seem digitally enhanced for absolutely no reason at all. At least Michael Fassbender has some fun as an inventively tattooed thug.

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