There's something rotten in Jonah Hex -- and it's not the horrific scars on the lone-gunman hero's face. From the lackluster direction to the equally flat one-liners, this DC Comics third-stringer gunslinger finds himself in one sorry example of uninspired modern Western filmmaking. By bringing little that's new to the table -- nor even serving up time-honored clichés in a gratifying way, the Warner Bros. picture limps its way across the screen from the awkward animated beginning to the "jump away from the explosion" ending. Uneven storytelling devices aside, the film is just bland. By adding the supernatural twist to the character, this cinematic version had even more of a chance to deliver an interesting spin on the genre, yet it mishandles those parts of the film just as badly as its routine shoot-outs. While nowhere near as headache-inducing as another poor comic-to-film exercise that preceded it by a few years (Frank Miller's The Spirit), Jonah Hex fails because it was made by Hollywood's collective suckage of creative choices. It was helmed by a lightweight director, whose previous outing was Horton Hears a Who!, and heavily changed from its original inception by the extreme writing team of Neveldine and Taylor, of Crank fame, who left the production due to "creative differences." To make matters worse, the troubled production went off to reshoots with "consultation" by Francis Lawrence of I Am Legend fame -- and was tinkered with right up until its release. Sound like a mess? Good, because it is.
The character's origin is first up on the chopping block. The movie is set around the Civil War, and Josh Brolin stars as Jonah Hex, a Confederate soldier whose family is burned alive by John Malkovich's Quentin Turnbull in a fit of revenge-fueled rage after Hex kills his outlaw son. Turnbull brands Hex's face before disappearing into the night, after which Jonah takes a hot tomahawk to his own ugly mug in order to erase the symbol of his family's killer. Along the way, he's taken in by Native Americans, who bring him back from the brink of death and infuse him with the power to talk to the dead. After hearing of Turnbull's apparent death, Hex becomes a bounty hunter and travels the countryside, only stopping once every so often to see Lilah (Megan Fox), a prostitute with a heart full of love for the disfigured lone wolf. When Turnbull reappears to steal the components to a mega-cannon from the U.S. government, President Grant (Aidan Quinn) orders Lieutenant Grass (the underused and horribly miscast Will Arnett) to bring Hex in to take Turnbull down because apparently he's the country's only hope to stop the country's first "terrorist."
After seeing the movie, it seems that a new person at the wheel would have been this picture's only hope. Even if the script's reportedly severe black comic roots and gratuitous action were axed, at the very least, a director with a penchant for the genre's stylistic rules could have still made a memorable film. As it is, the testosterone is dished out only in weak double-gun style, with little choreography to get the blood pumping. Though director Jimmy Hayward talks a good game when it comes to his love for spaghetti Westerns, he doesn't show nearly the methodical restraint of Leone's camera moves -- nor does he even infuse his wannabe cool-as-ice lead character with the patented Eastwood gruff. Brolin certainly tries to channel Clint, but his dialogue is unremarkable and there's really little that he creatively brings to the performance. By the same token, Malkovich doesn't as much chew scenery as he does his paycheck, with probably the biggest shocker of all being how small they got Megan Fox's corset to be. Otherwise, her soft-focus close-ups get annoying real fast -- and things quickly take a turn for the worse whenever she unleashes her down-South accent. Probably the messiest bit of the film deals with Jeb Turnbull, Malkovich's son. Portrayed by Jeffrey Dean Morgan (in an uncredited role), his character gets a lengthy "back from the dead" interrogation, yet the audience is never given another glimpse into his backstory -- a mistake made even more obvious when Hex returns to his grave at the end to deliver one last heartfelt apology. Sorry, that's just plain sloppy. Not quite bad enough to be funny and not funny enough to be enjoyable, Jonah Hex is a lackluster in most every way. Some people might be entertained by it, but certainly not those yearning for more than just a simple distraction from the summer heat.