You know the scene at that end of Apocalypse Now, where Brando keeps hoarsely repeating "The horror, the horror...?" It's a cool scene, isn't it? You won't find any similarly cool scenes herein, but you might end up quoting it if you should happen to watch this film.
No, that's not really true. That's unfair. It's not that this film is really that bad, it's...well, no. Okay. The film is terrible, no bones about it, but it's terrible in a way that's different from many other terrible movies. For much of its time, it's content to be generically mediocre and dull, punctuated now and again by points of sheer stupidity. It's like watching a big pile of cars, most of which are stalled or otherwise immobile, and then finding your eyes landing on a clown car that disgorges a bunch of giraffes in zoot suits, a big fat case of "blah, blah blah...whoa now, what the fuck am I looking at here?" Jonah Hex gives the impression of a movie made from five different scripts which all got tossed through a weed whacker, after which the still-readable bits were all taped together into one script. When that one script came out to be only about two-thirds the length of a normal script, nobody raised much of a fuss. There's little connective tissue, the scenes don't move with any semblance of grace, but it's only eighty minutes long, so at least the suffering will be brief.
Jonah Hex was a Confederate soldier who refused to commit the sort of war atrocity that wasn't really ever committed in the Civil War, and dropped dime on his squad rather than see them butcher innocents. The squad was executed, his former best friend's dad, General Turnbull, swore revenge, and Hex's face was burned with a branding iron while his family was burned to death in front of him. In the space of the opening sequence, mind you. Most comic book films that are the first in their franchise (and last, if there's any justice here) are the origin story. This film has an origin prologue, one consisting of planned massacres, mass executions and a woman and child burned alive. Right out of the gate, the film establishes that it is unconcerned with development, is poorly-paced, is sadistic and spiteful and no fun. Things slow down a wee bit when the plot proper, such as it, starts moving, but it becomes no more coherent. Jonah's superhero power is that, because of a near-death experience, he can talk to the dead. Later in the film he seems to suffer an actual death experience, only to be resurrected by some passing Indians, who can do such things, apparently. (And yes, I said 'Indians,' not 'native Americans.' The natives didn't call this land America any more than they called it India; how referencing them by the name of their conquerers is supposed to be more respectful utterly escapes me.) By contrast, this far more significant experience doesn't seem to provide Hex with any supernatural powers at all. Those who value logic should flee this place at once.
Hex is drafted into service by the US government to bring down ole' General Turnbull, who has a super weapon he calls the "nation killer" and is still smarting from the Union's well-deserved victory. It's basically a giant revolver made of cannons which fire a series of normal-looking cannonballs and then one glowing super cannonball, which together create, somehow, what looks to be a low-yield nuclear explosion. How this weapon was created during the Reconstruction era isn't even remotely explained, other than that it was made possible because of Eli Whitney and his system of interchangeable parts. Who'd have thought nuclear Armageddon would be ushered in by little old Eli Whitney and his cotton gin? Eli Whitney sucked! (Unless I misunderstood something somewhere....) This cannon is mounted on the deck of an enormous Monitor-style ship that is, it would seem, about five stories deep, if the final fight scene is any indicator. It makes no sense, but viewers can be forgiving of such implausibilities in films they can become invested in, which is of course where the whole shebang falls spectacularly apart. Other divergences from reason, such as a horse carrying a pair of saddle-mounted Gatling guns and the country's Centennial celebration being depicted as some glorious celebration of racial equality, do nothing to ground the film in anything but the most slapdash fantasy. Since we can't believe in or care about the paper-thin characters, we can't believe in their world, either.
Josh Brolin and John Malkovich, as Hex and Turnbull, respectively, are clearly slumming here. Malkovich has played far better villains, and Brolin made this film between two other cowboy-ish roles in the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men and True Grit, both vastly superior movies. Conversely, this is exactly the level of filmmaking Megan Fox is suited to, not that that's an endorsement. Prominently placed in the advertising, she commands maybe fifteen minutes of screen time as whore with what must be a fantastic health care plan and who seems to do no actual whoring. I'd like to make a suggestion in case anyone in Hollywood is bored enough to be reading this: the next time you consider casting Megan Fox in something, don't, and cast Eliza Dushku instead. She plays the same sort of bad-girl roles, has much greater range and is better-looking. If this should come to pass due to my recommendation, perhaps Eliza will call me up with gratitude in her heart, and the eighty minutes of my life that were wasted on seeing Jonah Hex will be vindicated in some exceedingly roundabout way.
Fans of the comic have loudly proclaimed that this is nothing akin to the original story. Perhaps this is partly why the film flopped so roundly, but it's ultimately neither here nor there. The Shining was little like the book that spawned it, and it's a classic. By contrast, I could hypothetically find out that this film was indeed a perfect evocation of its source material, and that fact would not make this movie suck one iota less.
-review by Matt Murray