Review: Production curses ultimately doom 'Jonah Hex'

Megan Fox pouts and Josh Brolin snarls in the troubled film, based on the supernatural comic book.

Warner Bros.

Megan Fox pouts and Josh Brolin snarls in the troubled film, based on the supernatural comic book.

There isn't enough time for growing to dislike Jonah Hex, since this supernatural western based on a comic book is over before you know it.

Seventy-three minutes, not counting the end credits. It may take longer driving to and from the theater than watching the movie. Normally such brevity is welcome, especially with westerns, since Kevin Costner having already thinned our patience, three hours at a time.

This is different. Jonah Hex isn't abrupt by design but by desperation. Bad buzz has hovered over this project like buzzards sniffing a wounded animal. Scenes were reshot months after first being botched. Performances were punked by on-set gossip. Production was frantic enough to delay preview trailers and an MPAA rating well beyond the usual timetable.

What's on screen is whatever the producers could salvage.

Some of it isn't bad at all. Josh Brolin does a nicely taciturn job as Jonah, a Civil War veteran who switched sides, angering his Confederate commander, Gen. Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich). Turnbull retaliated by murdering Jonah's family and branding his face, leaving a scarred, sinewy mess that a case of Proactiv couldn't cure.

Jonah wants revenge, of course. But he's also serving his country after Turnbull steals a shipment of WMDs, planning to aim them at President Ulysses S. Grant (Aidan Quinn) and a Fourth of July centennial celebration. Jonah will get Turnbull, faster and easier than expected thanks to the abbreviated running time.

Just for fun, let's guess what was left on the cutting room floor, shall we?

I'm betting there aren't any slo-mo fireballs that didn't make the final edit. Jonah Hex already has so many that a viewer could get third-degree burns from the screen.

There must be a scene or two with Malkovich going bat-guano crazy, since it's typically in his contract. The thespian is curiously subdued for playing such a dastardly character. Malkovich's ravings may have been hamstrung by sharing the screen with Megan Fox, likely the worst victim of the editing room.

Fox plays the prostitute Lilah, who loves Jonah, uber-acne and all. He's more than just an ugly face, while Fox is nothing more than a pretty one. Somehow she's kidnapped by Turnbull for the climactic showdown, but we don't see it happen, or how she reacts. The excised scenes probably required Fox to emote more than she's capable of doing.

Certainly there's more graphic violence somewhere. Jonah Hex was trimmed to ensure a PG-13 rating rather than the R the source material deserves. Sure, a PG-13 rating paves the way to more tickets being sold, but in this case any increase will be minor.

Even the good stuff seems shortchanged. Jonah can reawaken dead people ("Kind of a knack I picked up when I near-died myself"), but we don't get any zombie army action. He has Gatling guns strapped to his saddle, and crossbow pistols that ignite and propel dynamite sticks, but uses them only once. You get the feeling that an expanded Jonah Hex on DVD could be more watchable. But that doesn't seem worth the risk.

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.

. FAST FACTS

'Jonah Hex'

Grade: C-

Director: Jimmy Hayward

Cast: Josh Brolin, Megan Fox, John Malkovich, Will Arnett, Michael Fassbender, Wes Bentley, Aidan Quinn

Screenplay: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor, based on their comic book characters

Rating: PG-13; violence,

profanity

Running time: 80 min.

Review: Production curses ultimately doom 'Jonah Hex' 06/17/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 17, 2010 9:31pm]

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