Wretched Hexcess

Jonah Hex, written by William Farmer, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, based on the DC Comics character created by John Albano and Tony DeZuniga, directed by Jimmy Hayward, starring Josh Brolin, John Malcovich, Megan Fox and Will Arnett (2010): This movie is staggeringly bad in an almost giddy way. Good actors, a number of whom I didn’t know were in the movie until I saw the closing credits (I’m looking at you, Michaels Fassbender and Shannon!), really have nothing to work with but dreadful dialogue and inept staging.

This may be the longest 81-minute movie in history. It bears almost no resemblance to its excellent comic-book source, which was really, when it started in the 1970’s, an attempt to translate a spaghetti Western into a mainstream comic book. That effort succeeded, and a pretty good Hex book is on the comic stands even now. But this thing…Holy Fuck! Pardon my French!

But it is fascinating. For one thing, I really came to believe by the end of the movie that we were looking at several different screenplays from which scenes had been pulled at random, filmed, and then assembled hastily. One movie seems to have been based on the Wild Wild West TV show and much-later Will Smith movie, giving us a steampunky Old West in which villainous Confederate General Malcovich plans to destroy Washington, DC on the night of America’s centennial with a doomsday machine Super Cannon created for the U.S. government by Eli Whitney, who also created the Cotton Gin; Jonah Hex has his own anomalous high-tech guy make crazy-ass, future-looking weapons for him like a 19th-century Batman.

In another, scarred bounty hunter Hex (Brolin) tracks down killers in the Wild West in the 1870’s. In another, Hex has magical powers that allow him to bring the dead back to life so he can get information from them (Pushing Daisies, anyone?). And in yet another movie, Hex has a loveable dog sidekick who vanishes and reappears depending on which script the film-makers are using at that point. Megan Fox’s colossal fall from Fanboy starlet to has-been continues apace here — she neither looks nor sounds like a prostitute from 1876, and her role is kept pretty minimal to hide her ineptitude.

What else? Flashbacks and confusing dream sequences, sometimes cut right into action sequences for added confusion; recurring flashbacks of the same scene; a badly animated opening sequence that condenses Hex’s history so that we can get the stuff actually derived from comic books out of the way; Will Arnett as a weinery Union lieutenant; a ridiculously miscast Aidan Quinn as President Ulysses S. Grant; a climactic sequence that occurs entirely at night because the movie doesn’t have the budget for a CGI climax one can fully see; a totally out-of-left-field use of Native Americans; almost no attention to Hex’s actual backstory from the comic books. Choppy, confusing editing. But it’s short! Really not recommended.

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