Movie Review: “Jonah Hex”

22 Jun

I like most of the movies I see (which is why I almost never rank anything below a 5 on a scale of 1-10). Generally, I try to pick movies that are both culturally influential and well-made. Unfortunately, “Jonah Hex” is an exception to this rule. You’ve probably never heard of this movie – a Western-with-a-touch-of-the-supernatural. Apparently it was originally a graphic novel…which I can only hope is better than the awful film that bears its name.

The eponymous hero, Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin), is a horrifically scarred bounty hunter with a vendetta: the villainous Quentin Turnbull (a tragically underused John Malkovich), infuriated by Hex’s betrayal of his Confederate division during the Civil War, has killed his family. Near death, Jonah is rescued by the Crow Indians and bestowed with some sort of supernatural power to briefly reanimate the dead.

This all takes place within the first five minutes of the film. No further explanation whatsoever is given for Jonah’s bizarre powers.

A few years later, the presumed-dead Turnbull reappears with a new scheme: constructing a massive weapon allegedly developed by Eli Whitney. Yes, the inventor of the cotton gin himself…I’m sure he’s rolling over in his grave (no pun intended). The U.S. government promptly shows up at Jonah’s door, offering him a full pardon in return for his elimination of Turnbull. Predictably, Jonah sets off on a revenge odyssey that involves causing innumerable explosions and leaving a long trail of bodies behind him. But what action movie would be complete without a female lead? Enter Lilah (played with all the emotion of a brick wall by Megan Fox), a hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold who seems to be Jonah’s longtime lover.

I could spend hours enumerating the problems with this film…but I’ll try to be fairly succinct: this movie is a purposeless train wreck, with a plot that feels like it was written by a fourth-grader.

The storyline is just as confusing as you might expect. Zero time is spent on character development or emotional depth – this movie concentrates exclusively on burning down buildings and gunning down legions of supporting characters. Oh, and did I mention the explosions? Trains, boats, cities, buildings, living people, dead people, and undead people all get the dynamite treatment. I stopped counting after the fourth building was destroyed within the first twenty minutes.

There are also plenty of ridiculously over-the-top moments. I occasionally like stupid action-junkie movies, but this was too much even for me. Not only does Jonah ride a horse fitted with saddle-mounted Gatling guns, he also proceeds to utilize repeating crossbow-pistols that fire exploding arrows (I’m not making this up). Turnbull’s mystery weapon is ludicrously overpowered, utilizing technology that looks like it was cribbed from Star Wars. This movie is supposed to take place in the 1800s, after all.

But the weirdness doesn’t stop there. In a bizarre arena fight scene, a “snake man” with inhumanly large jaws and acidic spittle shows up for about two minutes with no explanation whatsoever. Twenty minutes later, an apparently injured Jonah is taken in by Native Americans who perform some kind of bizarre ritual involving a live crow flying out from Jonah’s throat. The final battle is an incoherent mishmash of violent hand-to-hand combat intercut with dream-sequence images, accompanied by a pounding heavy metal score. The movie is a constant stream of “what just happened?” sequences that defy all logic.

The acting is on par with the rest of the film – which is to say, pretty bad. Jonah Hex displays no personality whatsoever, instead relying on a series of tired revenge-film quips that add nothing to the movie. Quentin Turnbull, his arch-nemesis, is vaguely unthreatening – for most of the movie, he seems grumpy rather than murderous. And plenty has already been said about Megan Fox’s acting, so I’ll refrain from going into further detail.

And that brings up another, graver problem with “Jonah Hex”: the total and perverse objectification of the character Lilah. It’s one thing to have a strong female lead – it’s quite another to introduce a character whose sole purpose is to sexualize the tone of the movie. From the beginning of the film until its conclusion, Lilah’s wardrobe is limited to a very low-cut corset and stockings that leave most of her leg exposed. No time is ever spent investing in her character or exploring her intrinsic worth as a human being – she’s just there to show a lot of skin and titillate the young-male demographic that this film targets.

But perhaps most disturbingly of all is the way that the film appears to take twisted pleasure in throwing her into violent situations. Lilah is repeatedly slapped, leered at, beaten, and attacked with knives. And this isn’t some form of social commentary about the abuse of women – it’s seemingly included to appeal to the worst elements of the audience. This sexualization of the violence in “Jonah Hex” is highly inappropriate and fundamentally demeaning to women.

Worldview elements are murky at best. Native American mysticism is liberally sprinkled throughout the film, and the dead souls Jonah contacts are apparently suffering in hell. There isn’t a single ray of spiritual hope anywhere in the movie, which is a real tragedy. A film like this has the potential to explore significant issues…but “Jonah Hex” prefers to rely on a mashup of pop-spirituality and occultism.

So, should you see it?

In a word, no. It’s a total waste of time with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. After seeing a movie like “Toy Story 3” – which had strong characters and a meaningful story – a film like “Jonah Hex” just looks even more like the mindlessness that it is.

VERDICT: 1.5/10
One point for the semi-intriguing premise. Half a point because some of the explosions were reasonably entertaining. That’s it.

Normalized Score: 0.0

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Posted by on June 22, 2010 in Fantasy


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