by Mel Valentin
"Jonah Hex," the first, and most likely, time DC Comics’ anti-hero bounty hunter, opens this weekend against Pixar Animation Studios’ latest surefire blockbuster, "Toy Story 3." While the two films have little in common, suggesting one of the reasons Warner Bros. decided to open "Jonah Hex" the same weekend as counter-programming, Pixar will win the weekend handily. "Jonah Hex" will be lucky to earn back a fraction of its budget back this weekend, partly out of moviegoer disinterest, but mostly due to the muddled, incoherent mess that does everyone involved, yes, even Megan Fox, a major disservice.A film’s opening sequence can, and often does, tell you a great deal about the filmmaker’s intention, as well as his (or her) skills as a storyteller. In Jonah Hex’s case, the opening sequence tells us that the director, Jimmy Hayward (Horton Hears a Who, brought in after co-writers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (Crank I and II, Gamer) left the production due to “creative differences,” doesn’t know his way around a live-action set or post-production of a live-action film. An overlong prologue, a mix of animated comic book panels and live-action overlaid with redundant, clumsy voiceover, fill us in on Jonah Hex’s (Josh Brolin) backstory: an ex-Confederate soldier who betrayed his commanding officer, General Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich), to the Union side after Turnbull targeted a hospital, and all the innocent civilians inside, for destruction. As a result, Turnbull’s son died. As revenge, Turnbull killed Hex’s wife and son and burned his face with a branding iron.
"Skip the movie, read the comic book."
When we finally meet Hex in real (or is it reel?) time, he’s attempting to collect the bounty on three men. When the town’s sheriff attempts to renege on the bounties and kill Hex (who has a bounty on his head as well), Hex kills him and several other men in self-defense. For rest and relaxation, Hex visits his favorite prostitute, Lilah (Megan Fox). After Turnbull, once presumed dead, reappears and attacks a heavily armed troop train, killing everyone on board, the U.S. president, Ulysses S. Grant (Aidan Quinn), offers Hex a pardon in exchange for stopping (and killing) Turnbull before he can attack again.
Departing from the comic book series, Neveldine and Taylor’s script gives Hex minor supernatural abilities, principally the ability to talk to the dead (cg., Pushing Daisies) and survive wounds that would kill ordinary men, presumably so he can exact revenge on Turnbull. Hex’s Crow-like supernatural abilities are mashed-up in a nonsensical storyline that involves a science-fiction weapon, “nation killer,” an idea apparently borrowed from The Wild, Wild West (the television series or the Will Smith action-comedy). Neveldine and Taylor’s script, at least what we see of it onscreen, has none of the humor that made The Wild Wild West series so much fun for television audiences. To give the anti-authoritarian Hex a goal, Neveldine and Taylor saddle him with revenge as the principal motive for his action (cf. The Outlaw Josey Wales).
With the one and only exception of the troop train ambush, Hayward, with, presumably an unwelcome assist from Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Constantine), brought in by Warner Bros. to supervise reshoots and a reedit, doesn’t do anyone any favors by directing flaccid, unengaging set pieces. He draws bland, uninspired performances from the cast, including Fox, who has almost nothing to do until the climax, spending most of her time onscreen in her bedroom, and Malkovich, who sleepwalks his way through the film as a domestic terrorist who wants to restart the Civil War. Brolin fares marginally better, but often has difficulty delivering his lines through constricting makeup. Only Michael Fassbender (Centurion, Inglourious Basterds, Hunger) gives anything approaching an energetic, memorable turn, but he’s onscreen in only a handful of scenes."Jonah Hex" always seemed like an unlikely prospect for a big-screen adaptation. Despite an ongoing comic book series under DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint (and thus apart from the DC Universe proper), Jonah Hex (the series) continually flirts with cancellation even as it approaches its fifth year of publication in its current form under co-writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti. Rumors suggest that if "Jonah Hex" fails at the box office (and it will), DC Comics will cancel the series. If that happens, it’ll be a loss for comic book fans everywhere. The big-screen adaptation, however, will soon fall into the memory hole where all sub-par comic-book adaptations go.
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originally posted: 06/18/10 19:01:03