Directed by: Jimmy Hayward
Starring: Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Megan Fox,
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, disturbing images and sexual content.
Summer is a time for brainless action at the local multiplex, and “Jonah Hex” has both feet firmly planted in that tradition. This is a film which has only enough plot to half-excuse the ludicrous action, special effects, and sex appeal it’s packed with. If you want to kill a couple hours and enjoy cross-genre or comic book movies, there are worse things you could do than go see “Jonah Hex.” Just keep your expectations low.
The film is the story of its title character, a former Confederate soldier with a scarred face and the ability to talk to dead people. He works as a bounty hunter and keeps his connections to a minimum; the closest he gets to human contact is the occasional tryst with gun- and knife-wielding hooker Lilah (Megan Fox) and visits to a local tribe of Native Americans to magically heal him when he’s badly hurt.
The man who scarred his face is Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich), once Hex’s commanding officer. Turnbull has become a terrorist and is planning something impressively awful to mar the United States’ centennial celebrations, so President Grant (Aidan Quinn) hires Hex to stop him. Along the way there are loads of fights, some mystical stuff about destiny and death, and very, very little in the way of logic.
The actors’ abilities (or lack thereof) are irrelevant because the characters are so simple. There is no depth here, no need to show multiple emotions — calling the characters cardboard would overstate their complexity. Brolin’s acting ability is limited by the extensive makeup for his scar and the requirement that every line be spoken through gritted teeth. Even without that, though, Hex has two emotions: rage and disinterest. Turnbull and Burke are simply evil; Turnbull is soft-spoken and Burke is manic, but that’s about as much differentiation as they get, outside their accents (Malkovich makes a noble effort at a Southern gentleman accent, while Fassbender goes full-on Irish). Fox’s job is to look sultry and show as much skin as a PG-13 rating will allow, and she does fine.
But then, this isn’t trying to be a character study. The characters exist so that the action and effects can happen, and that is where “Jonah Hex” really shines. There are a number of thoroughly enjoyable fistfights and shootouts, and Turnbull’s superweapon is suitably impressive and awesome (if utterly unrealistic; but then, you don’t see a movie like this looking for realism). Hex’s ability to bring the dead back to life temporarily means we get some surprisingly well-done transformation effects, and there’s even a couple creative uses of the power. The soundtrack is a highlight as well. It’s a mixture of music composed for the film by heavy-metal group Mastodon and traditional Civil War music — bizarre but effective and enjoyable.
Those good things may not be enough to make the film worth watching for you, though. “Jonah Hex” is worth seeing on the big screen if you like special effects enough to make up for its other shortcomings. Otherwise, wait for DVD — unless you insist your movies have even a smidgeon of depth, complexity, or coherence. In that case, stay away entirely.