- Tied up: Megan Fox and Josh Brolin
I'd never heard of Jonah Hex. Guess when I was studying 19th-century American history I missed the story of the severely scarred Civil War vet turned bounty-hunter. DC Comics didn't, and that's where we learn the particulars of Mister Hex.
Not to worry if you've not read the dusty comic: In Jimmy Hayward's adaptation, he helpfully fills in the backstory. He even uses comic-panel-style animation, though frankly, some pages seemed to be missing.
During the Civil War, Hex (Josh Brolin) causes the death of his buddy (unclear), so his buddy's dad, General Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich), drops by, spittin' mad. Turnbull monologues for a bit, then burns up Hex's family, and brands his initials on Hex's face (totally clear). The injured Hex is taken in by Crow Indians, and recuperates: He is badly scarred and angry (clear) and able to talk to the dead (unclear). Now Hex roams the land in his dirty old uniform, killing wanted men for bounty (clear) while being wanted himself (unclear).
And it just goes on like that -- one bit making sense and the next part coming out of nowhere with little explanation. Fortunately, the "big" story is so simple that should you care to see Mr. Hex's adventure out -- after all, it is only 80 minutes long -- the unexplained nonsense hardly gets in the way.
Gen. Turnbull was supposed to be dead, but isn't -- and what's more, he's still fighting the war. He's building a colossal "country killer" weapon (something like a boat-based long-range cannon powered by glowing orange balls), and plans to blow up Washington, D.C. So, the president hires Hex to ... uh ... stop this.
When Hex isn't shooting cackling bad guys, blowing up towns or having visions with lots of crows in 'em, he's showing off his scars to Lilah (Megan Fox), the cleanest prostitute in this one-horse town. (Such shiny hair!) As befits the genre, Lilah's role is to pout, primp and stretch revealingly, and, when the mood strikes her, get super-sexy-bad and kick some ass while wearing only underwear.
All this is expected in a film adapted from a low-level comic, but two things make this film especially lame. One is Hayward's affection for lots of gimmicky visuals: weird exposures, jumpy editing and cheesy CGI (there's an unexplained smoldering thing that affects the corpses Hex talks to). Then, there are the distracting casting choices: Funnyman Will Arnett as a stone-faced top military brass, and stone-faced Lance Reddick (The Wire's Lt. Daniels), as a cheery ex-slave-turned-futuristic-arms-merchant-slash-racial-harmonist?
But ultimately, the story rests with Jonah Hex, and nothing about this thinly sketched character invites us to care, even with his burdensome past and peculiar gifts. (Wait, did Hex just puke up a crow?!) Plus, he's sooooo grumpy that he can't even speak civilly to his faithful horse and hound. This dude isn't ready for his close-up.