The Aisle Steat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Jonah Hex

This review of Jonah Hex might end up being longer than the movie itself. Take away the end credits and you're left with a film that runs just 75 minutes. How does this happen, you may ask? Every few years, it seems that we get some high profile disaster; here's the latest. An adaptation of a dark DC comic cult favorite, Jonah Hex was written and to be directed by the team of Neveldine/Taylor, the guys who made the Crank pictures and Gamer. They left the project after “creative differences” with the studio (i.e. they wanted to make a true-to-the-comic R-rated adaptation, while the studio wanted something PG-13) and were replaced by Jimmy Hayward, whose only previous directing credit was the decidedly G-rated Horton Hears a Who. According to reports, the studio didn't like what Hayward did either, so they brought in Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) for reshoots. Combining the work of so many different people with completely different visions typically adds up to one big mess. When this happens, studios sometimes cut out everything that isn't necessary and just release what's left, hence a movie that's over almost as soon as it begins.

Josh Brolin plays the title character, a former Confederate soldier turned vigilante whose family was killed and whose face was deformed by the evil Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich). Years later, the presumed-dead Turnbull re-emerges, armed with a deadly weapon that he plans to unleash on the Capitol building. The U.S. Military enlists Hex to find and stop his former nemesis. Megan Fox co-stars as Lilah, a prostitute who Hex spends leisure time with, although she doesn't have much purpose to the story other than to get kidnapped at a particular point. And to wear a tight corset.

With its uber-short running time, Jonah Hex feels more like a trailer for a movie rather than the movie itself. You can totally tell that big chunks of the story were left on the cutting room floor, leaving only a series of seemingly unconnected plot points. The character of Hex is actually quite interesting. In the comics, he straddles a world between life and death, giving him some unique abilities. The movie really downplays that, so anyone coming in without prior knowledge of the character will leave completely unaware of what has made him popular with fans. This is a shame; the film had lots of room to develop Hex, to let us build a rooting interest in him. Without that development, he's just a dude with a nasty burn on the side of his face. Turnbull is an enigma too, so he never really seems to pose much of a threat. Obviously, it was the original intention to show us more of these men, but that stuff was cut out in favor of the scenes that just had action in them.

There's other evidence of missing material. In the comics, it's a running gag that people ask Hex about his face, only to receive some kind of sarcastic answer. Near the beginning of the movie, someone asks about the gaping hole in Hex's cheek, and he says, “I cut myself shaving.” At the end, someone else asks about it. Hex replies, “I'm all out of smartass wisecracks.” Really, Jonah? Because you only had one. It couldn't be more obvious that this line of dialogue was the punchine to a joke whose set-up has been almost completely stripped away.

Then there's poor Michael Shannon. If you don't recognize the name, you'd certainly recognize the face. The man has been in dozens of movies and scored an Oscar nomination for Revolutionary Road. He is on screen – literally – for about five seconds. Where did his role go?

Watching Jonah Hex is kind of frustrating because you keep noticing stuff like this. The fact that material is missing is blatantly obvious. In the 70's, grindhouse movies used to have title cards that read “scene missing” inserted whenever part of the print got ruined. This film feels like it needs those cards all over the place.

Jonah Hex is a no doubt a bad film. That said, it has enough good elements to make you realize that it could have been awesome. Josh Brolin probably gave an interesting performance, had we been allowed to see all of it. Ditto for Malkovich. There are some very cool visuals and stylistic moments. A couple of the action scenes have some punch. As I watched, I kept thinking, This would be great if all these things were incorporated into an actual story. What we're left with is a lot of intriguing pieces that don't add up to a whole. Come to think of it, they don't even add up to a half.

( out of four)

Blu-Ray Features:

Because I found it so intriguingly deformed during the theatrical run, I was very intrigued to see the supplemental materials on the Jonah Hex Blu-Ray. After scouring the disc for clues as to what went wrong, I've come up empty-handed. The only suggestions of any trouble come from Megan Fox, who says the original version of the script was "misogynist," and from producer Akiva Goldsman, who refers to a rewrite. Other than that, the bonus material avoids any mention of Francis Lawrence or Neveldine/Taylor.

So what is here? First and foremost is "The Weird Western Tales of Jonah Hex," a picture-in-picture feature wherein you watch various behind-the-scenes segments synced up to the movie. This "visual commentary track" offers an admittedly interesting look at the costumes, special effects, stunts, performances, etc. While you won't find anything related to production difficulties, there is still something to be gained from hearing how many of the film's technical elements were achieved. (The above-mentioned Fox and Goldsman interviews can be found herein.)

"The Inside Story of Jonah Hex" is a terrific 10-minute examination of the character's comic book origins, as well as his transformation from a standard cowboy into a supernatural one. Current DC Comics editors are interviewed, as are some of the artists/writers who have shaped Hex over the years. This is a nice, compact history of a unique character.

Finally, there are three deleted scenes. Two of them are rather short and inconsequential. The third finally answers the question: What was Michael Shannon doing in this film? The actor gets an extended scene that justifies his character a little more.

I didn't hate Jonah Hex as much as many critics did. It's a disaster, but it also has some merit on that level. You don’t see something go so spectacularly wrong very often. Regardless of your take on the film, the bonus materials on the Blu-Ray are generally enjoyable. Picture and sound quality are first-rate.

Jonah Hex is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, disturbing images and sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 21 minutes.