MOVIE REVIEW: Jonah Hex

JONAH HEX-- 1 STAR

Not all comic books have brightly colored spandex-clad heroes and superpowers.  Some of them class themselves up as "graphic novels" and have more pulpy, adult-orientated stories, ripe for getting the big screen treatment.  Several non-superhero-based graphic novels have made their way from the pages to the theaters in the last decade, including the underrated and highly recommended Jack the Ripper story

From Hell starring Johnny Deppthe monster Spartan hit 300, and the exceptional Oscar-nominated The Road to Perdition with Tom Hanks and Paul Newman.  2010 has already brought the above-average actioner The Losers and the upcoming Scott Pilgrim vs. the World in August looks extremely promising coming from the director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. 

Most films based on graphic novels bend seemingly ordinary plots into engaging, well-written stories with snappy dialogue and a fresh visual style and panache that comes from their source material.  And then there's Jonah Hex. As my former teacher coworkers would say: "Shut the front door."

Jonah Hex is as convoluted and as haphazardly made as the title character's face.  Based on the DC Comics graphic novel, Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) is a former Confederate soldier who growls through his horrible facial scarring as a cynical and surly bounty hunter.  His change from a noble soldier to flawed loner came from his former commanding officer, Quinton Turnbull (played by psycho-villain expert John Malkovich, naturally), murdering his wife and son in revenge for Jonah being responsible for Turnbull's son's death while fighting together in the war.  Quinton has Jonah tied up, crucifixion-style, to watch his family's murder and then brands his face and leaves him for dead.  Days later, Jonah is found and brought back to health by local Native Americans and finds that, after being so close to death, he now has the ability to communicate with the dead by touch (done deliciously with special effects).

Years pass to 1876 and Turnbull, aided by his demented Irish right hand man Burke (Michael Fassbender from 300 and Inglourious Basterds), has now resurfaced as a national terrorist when he acquires the weapons and technology to destroy whole towns and cities.  After Turnbull repeatedly evades capture, President Ulysses S. Grant (I guess they couldn't get Kevin Kline from the bomb Wild Wild West to reprise the role so they went with Aidan Quinn) preposterously turns to our wanted vigilante bounty hunter to help his soldiers led by Lt. Grass (an oddly placed Will Arnett) hunt him down before he attacks Washington during the country's centennial celebration.  Throw in a useless Megan Fox for twenty-one minutes of eye-candy screen time and you have the makings of a train wreck if you couldn't tell already.  Josh Brolin looks the part and does his best to channel his inner-Clint Eastwood shooting whiskey and bad guys and adding grisled voiceover narration, but he is killing his stellar recent track record of Milk (for which he was Oscar-nominated), W., and No Country For Old Men with Jonah Hex.  

The movie tries in its graphic novel fashion to offer over-the-top characters and action, but the pieces just don't fit together.  Sure, a horse-mounted double Gatling gun looks damn cool, preposterous or not, but Dragonball-Z looking orbs acting as the ultimate cannonball are a little much to buy, even in a comic book movie.  The movie gets its half-star beyond one for at least a few successful attempts at colorful comic action style.

The movie is just 81 disorganized minutes long.  Random scenes mix with random flashbacks and makes for the most poorly constructed movie I've seen in a long time.  Either they had no idea what they filmed and how it was supposed to come together, or they took an R-rated final product and trimmed the hell out of it. 

Jonah Hex unsuccessfully tries to take a very dark and violent graphic novel and soften it enough for a wide PG-13 rating and audience.  The subject material, action, and violence would be much better suited going all the way, unapologetically, like Watchmen did over a year ago.  As Tom Green yelled to a snake in Road Trip: "Unleash the fury!"  As for the movie Jonah Hex, unleash the unrated DVD and take your horse to a different sunset.

LESSON #1: DON'T PLAY WITH FIRE OR YOU GET BURNED-- There are lots of accidents involving hot things and fire in this movie.  Stop, drop, and roll, kids, and keep it in a fireplace.  Trade in your branding irons for marshmallow-roasting forks.

LESSON #2: DON'T GET YOUR BOSS'S CHILDREN KILLED-- Even if that son was your best friend and the soldier who always had your back (and looks like Denny from Grey's Anatomy), try not to get him killed.  His dad, your boss, is going to be pissed and probably get revenge.

LESSON #3: IRISH PEOPLE ARE ALWAYS SADISTIC SUPPORTING PLAYERS-- Is there ever a good Irish right hand man in movies?  Are they always the sloppy drunks in The Departed and Good Will Hunting or crazy leprechauns in bowler hats in Jonah Hex?  Even the mad Irishman "Stephen" who fought with the good guys in Braveheart was out of his mind crazy!

LESSON #4: WHEN YOUR COUNTRY CALLS YOU TO HELP, ANSWER THE CALL-- Helping the President might get you on the good list for Christmas, get your past transgressions cleared up, and maybe even turn you into a hero.  Hey, you've got to think that's why Kal Penn of Harold & Kumar fame got a job with Obama.

LESSON #5: DON'T LET AN UGLY FACE RUIN YOUR CONFIDENCE OR SWAGGER WITH THE LADIES-- Just look at this "fugly" mug!  How the hell does he get to bag Megan Fox, even if she's taking money playing a prostitute?  Nice work, Jonah!