Scarred ambiguously supernatural cowboy bounty hunter sheriff (seriously…) Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) tries to stop hobo looking super-villain Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich) from blowing up the US East Coast while exacting some personal revenge at the same time. Oh yeah, and Megan Fox’s butt.
When my computer spat this one out as the third Retro Streaming feature for me to watch and critique I couldn’t help but cringe and groan a little. I know that the point of this is I can end up watching pretty much anything and there is a good chance I will end up watching something at best dull and at worst toe curling. And that’s fine, I have no problem with that. If I did I wouldn’t have started this whole ridiculously fun adventure.
It’s just I had previously avoided Jonah Hex for some fairly specific reasons and made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t watch it come rain or shine. A promise I would now have to break, all in the name of this blog. You’re welcome World.
After I watched Jonah Hex and started thinking about what it was that bothered me so much I realised to fully cover it in this segment would be remiss. So I am going to supplement this with another article in the next couple of days about how Hollywood needs to better understand the importance of origin stories when adapting comic books for cinema. Instead I will focus here on the film itself and a little about just how this managed to flop so badly critically and commercially.
As I will cover in more detail in my later article Hollywood loves nothing more than to oversaturate the market when it feels like it’s onto a good thing. The world is currently going through a love in with comic books and graphic novel adaptations, so it’s no surprise that Jonah Hex got optioned and adapted. The film though, it has to be said, is based very loosely on the source material.
The story was adapted by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor whose previous efforts were Crank AND Crank 2: High Voltage as well as Gamer with Gerard “don’t look at my acting just focus on my pretty beard” Butler. WOOOOOOOWOOOOOOOWOOOOOOO!!!! What’s that? Oh yes, it’s the sound of the ALARM BELLS people should have been hearing when the team behind the Crank franchise were tasked with adapting a Steam-Punk Western story about a deeply conflicted character who is battling with such demons as his loyalty to the Confederate South while abhorring slavery during Civil War America.
Remarkably given the hyper-stylised and vacuous end product it was a surprise the writers Brian Taylor and Mark Neveldine were also attached to direct but left due to “artistic differences” with the studio. Playing fast and loose with the term “artistic” there are we internet forums? As such the studio moved it from one set of odd choice hands to another, albeit a singular pair, in Jimmy Hayward. Odd choice why? Well he’d only directed one thing before and that was animated Dr Seuss adaptation Horton Hears A Who. Not exactly a safe pair of hands to guide a troubled production to box office success.
Also can I pick up on something while I think about it. Mark Neveldine is credited purely as “Neveldine”. Note to Mark Neveldine: nothing makes you look more like a pretentious and arrogant wanker than being a skinny white guy who asks to only be credited by your last name. Stop taking tips from McG. I don’t know much about Jimmy Hayward but at least he uses his full name. Neveldine. What a dick.
On to the film itself and I gotta admit, I really hoped that all my prejudices about the film knowing it’s history and those responsible would be just that, prejudicial, and I would be proven wrong. So it was I settled down with my preconceptions placed to one side and blank slate in their place. Was I wrong?
Nope, it was as bad as I feared. Which made me sad as this should have been a great source novel for a Walking Dead style TV series on HBO or Showtime. Not a rushed, undercooked 81 minute Metallica music video. 81 minutes is really short for any cinematic release. You’d rarely write for less than 90 minutes. Which makes me think they shot this to be much longer and then when they came to edit, realised what they had an decided to cut huge chunks of story development to get through it as quickly as possible. Also there was some left over casting that felt weird and like their scenes ended up being cut in a huge cull. For instance Michael Shannon basically turns up as an extra. He is a well respected leading actor. You don’t cast him in a non-speaking role. He ends up as one because you cut his 15 minutes of scenes along with the other 75 minutes you had to get rid of.
It was so rushed that at times it was like someone was holding my hand and pulling me through the movie so I couldn’t stop and question anything. Like:
Me: “Wait how come he can talk to dead people by holding them?”
Film: “Don’t worry about that it’s not important, look at this big exploding wooden house over here”
Me: “What? Why is the house with no gas mains exploding like it was housing 10000 gallons of petrol?”
Film: “………………..Megan Fox in her underwear”
Me: “Oh I see”
All in all it deserved it’s criticisms and I am unsurprised by how much of a commercial flop it was (it took $10m at the box office which is a stinker for a movie of this size). Fans of the source material will be horrified by the underdevelopment of Hex’s character. Those with no knowledge of the source material will just be confused by his ability to talk to dead people and his motivations for doing stuff outside of the “they killed my family” shtick, which is a minor part of his character in the grand scheme of things.
Hollywood take note: pick your writers carefully and know when to do TV and when to do cinema.
In addition here is what else I took from the 81 minutes I can’t get back:
Other Things I Noted
- Josh Brolin was probably the best casting they could get for the part. It’s not his fault the script was terrible. When you look at the comic book Hex is drawn very much like a cross between Clint Eastwood and Harvey Two-Face Dent, and if Clint was 40 years younger he’d have been perfect. Brolin is a quality Westerns actor though, as evident in True Grit and the Coen Brothers’ adaptation of No Country For Old Men.
- By the nature of Hex’s facial scarring he can’t move his mouth very much and so a lot of what he says he actually mumbles. I watched this film with noise cancelling headphones in a silent room and struggled to hear about 40% of what he said. So God knows what it would have been like in a cinema or without headphones.
- Megan Fox had no facial scarring but did seem to have had botox before shooting. It’s easy to give Fox a hard time for her acting abilities, although I don’t think she is that bad of an actress in other stuff such as Jennifer’s Body. She really wasn’t given much to do here but look pretty. That said she didn’t do much with what she was asked. Nooooooooo expression whatsoever regardless of the scene. Watching her do happy, scared, cheeky and aroused was like watching Derek Zoolander do Magnum and the Blue Steel; THEY’RE THE SAME DAMN LOOK. I do respect her for calling out Michael Bay for the dickhole he is. But she was pointless in this movie. Literally her only point was as a plot device in the third act, and even that was half cooked and could have been done without. That said she does spend what time she is on screen in a corset so there is that…
- Michael Fassbender proved that he rightfully belonged at the top of our actors always great even in shitty movies list. For the short amount of screen time he gets he brings some life to the piece, all Irish eyes and psycho smile. Jonah Hex when the Fass is not on screen: shitty. Jonah Hex when the Fass is on screen? Less shitty because of it. I hope they paid him well or he at least got to touch Fox booby.
- John Malkovich has never been a better baddie than when he was playing Cyrus “The Virus” Grissom in Con Air. Still, he does do creepy well. I also still can’t tell him and Michael Stipe apart. I have a blindspot for old skinny white gaunt bald dudes. They all look the same to me.
- Will Arnett was terrible casting for role of a Lieutenant. The problem is Arnett has built his career on being able to deliver deadpan like no one else, partly because of his distinctive voice. So when he does drama he just sounds like he is being deadpan. Which is off putting to say the least. At one point he said the word “magic” and I half expected Ron Howard to start narrating “Gob Bluth thought if he could stop the evil Malkovich with his magic doves then maybe his Father would finally stop considering him a failure”
Running Time: 81 mins Release Date: 03/09/2010
Tagline: Revenge Gets Ugly (as is the movie)
Director: Jimmy Hayward – Not known for much before this in terms of directing. His only previous effort was animated Dr Seus effort Horton Hears A Who. Cut his teeth in animation including Toy Story 2 and Finding Nemo.
Written By: Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor from the graphic novels by Michael Fleisher, Joe Lansdale, Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti
Key Cast: Josh Brolin, Megan (mmmmmmmmmm) Fox, John Malkovich, Michael Fassbender, Will Arnett
Top TV Connections
1. Will Arnett (Gob Bluth on Arrested Development) as Lieutenant Grass
2. Michael Shannon (Nelson Van Alden on Boardwalk Empire) as blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Doc Cross Williams
- Burke: Jonah bloody Hex! I’d know that half-baked piehole anywhere!
- Burke: I’m gonna hand Turnbull your balls in a snuffbox!
- Burly Turnbull Guard: Hey, what happened to your face…?
[Hex kills him with a thrown tomahawk]
Jonah Hex: I’m all out of wiseass answers.
- Josh Brolin initially hated the script, but later changed his mind, growing to like its tongue-in-cheek tone. (always trust your gut Josh)
- Michael Fassbender based his character on sociopaths like the Riddler (Edward Nygma) and A Clockwork Orange‘s Alex77
- Composer John Powell was brought on to collaborate with the rock band Mastodon for the film. However, the film had to undergo re-shoots and re-edits, and Powell had other commitments, so he left and was replaced with Marco Beltrami, whose sensibilities were different and so Mastodon had to collaborate on a completely new score for the film, to their frustration.
Streaming now on Love Film