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Jonah Hex

You don't need to know anything about the character of Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) before going to see Jonah Hex. For one thing, he bears a strong resemblance in attitude toward the iconic gunfighters played by Clint Eastwood, although he wears some of his scars on the outside. Those were good Westerns, weren't they? It's worth mentioning because if Jonah Hex had been placed in one of those, you'd at least be seeing a good Western.

Credited screenwriters Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor actually seemed like a good match for the material. Unlike a lot of characters that make their way from comic books to the screen, Hex doesn't quite have that one special storyline that everybody loves and talks about. Instead, if people know him, they know he's a badass, traveling the mythic American West as a bounty hunter, dispensing justice if he feels justice must be done.

For the creators of Crank, that should have been a no-brainer, and had they stayed on as directors of their own script, it might have just gone balls to the wall in speed and action, covering up any flaws in story logic.

Somewhere along the line conventional wisdom added that because it's a movie, Hex should face a threat of larger scope than he normally does in the comics. Okay - that's not a terrible thing in and of itself. Perhaps the plot could even comment on current events by making the villain a 19th century terrorist. Again, not necessarily a concept to derail a movie.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the theater. Nobody seemed to remember exactly what movie they were trying to make.

At times Jonah Hex wants to be a supernatural thriller; after all, the character did debut in Weird Western Tales. To that end, the film gives Hex the power to talk to the dead (hey! It's the Corpse Whisperer!), possibly talk to dogs and at one point, teleport to wherever the nearest tribe of Crow might be when he needs healing. Who needs a public option when you've got that?

But for long stretches of this short movie (barely 70 minutes of plot), all that hocus pocus gets set aside, as maybe it should be. Buried within those stretches are moments that offer glimpses of a better movie. Often those come as lead-ins to the R rated film director Jimmy Hayward seems to have wanted to make, but the studio nixed because it would limit the audience. Like castrating a movie doesn't do that.

The same thing happened last month to The Losers, produced by the same company and linked by both an obnoxious use of comic book art to elide over pieces of plot and the presence of Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who struggles mightily in a cameo as Hex's dead best friend. Let's leave it at that, because it's not Morgan's fault the scene is terrible.

Nor can we blame any actor, though all are wasted in this movie. Even Megan Fox cannot be held accountable; both the direction and scripting do nothing to help actors. Hayward counts on us - if Fox plays a prostitute, that should be enough for us to fill in the blanks on her character ourselves, so the director doesn't have to.

Thus we also get John Malkovich being John Malkovich in hopes that will push us past the rough patches of exposition he has to mouth. Almost every other actor rushes by too quickly; though Will Arnett makes an impression, it's hard to tell if his character is supposed to be funny as Arnett usually is, or if somehow he thought this was going to be an interesting change of pace for him. And does anybody else remember when Wes Bentley was an actor of promise?

So if not working on character development, the director must be busy telling the story. Instead, everything is done in little fragments, quick cuts that either hide the lack of a good stunt budget or will distract us from noticing that not much of sense is really going on.

I have a theory, in fact, that at one point Hayward and his producers had a filmed climactic showdown that more fit the tone of one of the possible script directions, but it just didn't seem exciting enough so they filmed another. Then they realized the movie was running short so they went ahead and edited both together to pad things out

As a result, when Hex finally confronts his arch-enemy Quentin Turnbull (Malkovich), the battle takes place on both a physical and a metaphysical level. Or something. Pieces of the metaphysical popped up earlier, but it didn't make a lick of sense then, either.

However, Brolin rightly plays Hex as if it doesn't matter that it doesn't make sense. Through most of the movie he gives the character the right balance of tired flippancy masking soul-deep pain. If the script didn't do back flips trying to make this antihero seem like a standard superhero, Brolin's performance would have seemed even better. He was the right casting, no matter which movie this could have been.

In trying to appeal to the widest audience possible, the filmmakers failed to appeal to anyone. That ain't justice.That ain't revenge. It's just ugly.

Derek McCaw

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