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Look Away, Look Away, Look Away, Dixie Land

By Brian Prisco | Film | June 19, 2010 |

By Brian Prisco | Film | June 19, 2010 |

Yippie-kai-lame, motherfucker. I’m not sure what the fuck Jonah Hex was supposed to be. Rather than a tight-fisted western popcorn flick about a vigilante bounty hunter trying to track down the outlaw who murdered his family and scarred his face, we’re left with a cowboyed-up mash-up of pseudo-westerns, as gazed through a heady dose of peyote. Not a single frame doesn’t feel derived from something else, whether it’s Wild Wild West, Sherlock Holmes, Back to the Future III, or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The titular character growls and snarls his way through a rammy, stilted Ramboner, gunning through the flimsiest sketches of characters until the film abruptly skids to a whinnying cliff-edged halt. At a paltry 81-minute run time, you don’t have time to enjoy yourself. It’s like the studio gave up halfway through, which was about a half-hour past when the cast stopped caring. It’s a terrible cowpat minefield of a film, but what do you really expect when you get a flick scribbled haphazardly by the verbal equivalent of 5-hour Energy Drink, Neveldine and Taylor. The script reads like someone tried to make a movie out of the lyrics to Kid Rock and Big & Rich songs. If this were a horse, you’d shoot it.

If you’re familiar with the mythology of Jonah Hex, you’ll wish you weren’t, as the film somehow manages to both acknowledge and then completely disregard the story. They manage to cram exposition into about the first twelve seconds of the film, and then pepper the rest of the film with strange and confusing flashbacks that exist to remind the five or six stoners who permanently lost their short term memory. In the film, Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) is a Confederate soldier who gets captured by the Union which leads to the murder of his entire old battalion. One of these soldiers was Jeb, the son of General Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich), who crucifies Jonah while he burns Hex’s wife and son alive and then brands Hex’s face with a big QT so he’ll remember. Jeb then takes a red hot tomahawk and burns Jonah’s cheek, leaving him with half a Krueger. We get a bunch of comic-book illustrations depicting Jonah getting healed by the Crow Indians and another one of Turnbull burning alive in a house. And that’s your story. For those of you familiar with the comics, you might find yourself thinking “What the sunbleached fuck?” And that’s bound to be your feeling for the rest of the film.

Flash forward to 1876, which would have been a better place to start the fucking film instead of with the confusing and half-baked origins story. Hex is a bounty hunter with a bounty on his head. He trots into town dragging three corpses behind him. He faces down the shittown’s elders to claim his bounty, but of course, there’s a double cross, so Hex rips off his saddle blanket to expose the twin Gatling guns on his horse. Knowing the Neveldine/Taylor braintrust’s penchant for bloodsausage, the action in the film goes hyper cartoony but feels completely gelded by its PG-13 rating. So they trade cool stylistic action for lots of random explosions. I think this was mostly not to spook Megan Fox so she wouldn’t rear up and kick a PA in the head with her horseshoes.

The general premise of the film is that Turnbull’s actually alive and he’s gathering supplies because that sumbitch Eli Whitney cobbled together a superweapon that apparently runs on fucking Dragonballs and Turnbull stole it. So President Ulysses S. Grant (Aidan Quinn) sends his best lieutenant (Will Arnett) out to track down Jonah Hex and set him on the trail of Turnbull. Hex hunts down Turnbull using his magic power of being able to raise the dead. Well, what he really does is touch corpses and interrogate them while they magically turn to ash depending on how long they…do you really care? You don’t. You don’t have fucking time to care. Director Jimmy Hayward, an animator whose directorial debut was Horton Hears a Who?, doesn’t give you any time to give a goddamn. Instead of focusing on one or two interesting scenes, he cannonballs through the action like someone firing off Eli Whitney’s big bad Bertha mega-weapon. If a single scene in the film lasts longer than five minutes, it’s because someone’s struggling through one of the atrocious speeches Neveldine and Taylor found online in abandoned copies of Rambo sequels that were never made. There’s no sense of style or substance anywhere to be found. And the cinematography made the film look like it was shot entirely in front of a big screen TV broadcasting someone playing Red Dead Redemption. If you look closely at the eyes of the actors, you can actually see their scene partner counting their paychecks in the reflections of their pupils.

Which is a shame because they assembled a fucking amazing cast and then wasted them like showgirls pre-pretty button pushing at casino buffet salad bars. One of the Dukes of Hazzard, Tom Wopat, plays a guy who hangs out at a pit fighting arena because wasn’t Sherlock Holmes awesome, brah? He’s in it for about five unnecessary minutes until he gets eaten by Baraka, who seemed to be auditioning for Ryan Reynolds’s version of Deadpool in that shitty fucking Wolverine movie. Lance Reddick, Daniels for “The Wire” fans (which should be ALL of you hombres), plays the general store equivalent of Q, keeping a stockpile of super-wagonpunk weaponry like the portable gatling guns and exploding crossbow pistols. Because of course a Confederate soldier would befriend a recently-freed slave who would immediately have access to an arsenal of awesome equipment. Jeffrey Dean Morgan doesn’t even go credited as Jeb Turnbull, which makes him the smartest actor in the batch. Remember Wes Bentley and Aidan Quinn? Well, you won’t have time to, because they barely have parts. Michael Shannon was in the movie, but I’m not even sure which fucking part he was because nobody aside from Josh Brolin and John Malkovich have more than five minutes of screen time. I’m pretty sure he’s the creepy guy who wants to buy Megan Fox (I know, right? Shannon plays a creep. It’s a stretch.) After his performance as Kim Fowley in The Runaways, you’d have to be retarded to waste Shannon. But then again, these are the same folks who got Will Arnett to play an officious Union soldier for all of ten seconds. It’d be like hiring Ray Park to tend bar.

Michael Fassbender plays Malkovich’s main henchman, an Irish guy with an inexplicable chin and neck Maori looking tattoo. He’s the only one in the entire film having even the remotest amount of fun, so they give him about ten minutes of screen time. Megan Fox’s rooty-tooty-fresh-n-fruity prostitooty Lilah could have been played by a pair of tits on a stick, as you see pretty much every moment of her character in the trailer. The Baynis was right, Tits McGee emotes like a wooden cigar store Indian. I apologize, that’s insensitive, I meant to say a cigar store display rack, as the cigar store Indian would actually have at least one facial expression. You can tell how bad Malkovich’s villainous performance is going to be by the ridiculousness of his accent. He’s not even allowed to chew scenery. His character kills a lot of people out of frame, so you assume he’s a brutal killer. He does nothing but wait until the camera pans up into a close up and then orders people to be killed or kills them himself. And as much as I love Josh Brolin, he’s essentially using the Bale method of comic book heroing. He winces and grunts through the entire film, like a less thoughtful version of Carl from Sling Blade. Aside from Fassbender, Brolin puts in the strongest performance by virtue of the fact he’s on screen most of the time and manages to half-ass an effort.

Jonah Hex couldn’t have been a more ridiculous film if a giant mechanical spider did the fucking Lindy hop on the White House lawn. Wild Wild West is a terrible film, but at least it’s kind of fun. If you’re some kind of asshole, you might want to draw comparison to The Quick and the Dead, but Jimmy Hayward couldn’t hold Sam Raimi’s spittoon. When things aren’t randomly exploding, Jonah Hex spends his time riding a horse, followed by a sidekick dog. He picks up a corpse, yells at it until it starts to use up the leftover vampire ashing effects from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and then goes and makes more stuff blow up. Which for all intents and purposes should have made it a more enjoyable flick. I can only imagine that they’ll be releasing an unrated cut that’s actually two hours long, because that’s the only explanation for how parsed and bland and erratic this film looked. It was like it came pre-cut for multiple broadcast on TBS. I refuse to buy the bullshit “underappreciated comic property” argument. This could have been a killer project, and instead it feels like watching a rehearsal for a Frontiertown Disney stunt show. I’d sooner watch Val Kilmer karaoke the soundtrack to Young Guns II while the cast of Glee mug in little plastic cowboy hats than relive this utter failure.