Lust in the Dust
All that work Open Range and 3:10 to Yuma put into making Westerns fashionable again, and here comes Jonah Hex to really rock the boat. Based on a fairly obscure DC Comics title, this supernatural adventure will come as a surprise to John Wayne purists in the house. It's a classic set-up with modern matinee trappings the traditional at heart may not cotton to, but you have to give it an A for effort. Jonah Hex isn't the sharpest draw in town, though it's more offbeat and even ambitious than its damning reviews give it credit for.
Our story couldn't be more of a Western if it tried. Josh Brolin (W.) plays Hex, a former Confederate soldier who saw the error of his ways and left to start life over. But as thanks for his service, old commanding officer Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich) branded Hex a traitor, slaughtered his kin, and gave him one butt-ugly scar as a goodbye gift. Now a bounty hunter with otherworldly powers, Hex finds himself drafted by Uncle Sam to battle Turnbull once more. America's centennial is imminent, giving Turnbull the perfect occasion on which to rattle Washington with a fancy new super weapon. But with a tough cookie prostitute (Megan Fox) and an arsenal to envy Patton at his call, Hex is plenty prepared for one showdown he's been waiting to happen.
For as many blockbusters the recent wave has produced, comic flicks are never a sure thing. Once you get away from Batman levels of familiarity, success is one big crapshoot, blessing some (Sin City) and spurning others (Steel). It's hard to tell where Jonah Hex will end up, but rest assured that we don't have a return engagement of Wild Wild West on our hands. The movie goes for an industrial motif, complemented by a soundtrack from rock maestros Mastodon. It's a hybrid of heavy metal and blue steel that comes across as pretty effective. Jonah Hex stays within the visual parameters which plot and budget will allow, as well as adhering closely to its warped logic. Just try naming another movie with President Grant having to stop John Malkovich from blowing up D.C. with a doomsday gun built by Eli Whitney.
But where Jonah Hex falls short is, well, it falls short. The running time clocks in at 81 minutes (that's with credits). Like Hex himself, the flick hits brass tacks swiftly, but that also means getting the bare minimum of what Jonah Hex has to offer. So much is sped through, especially the occult elements, which are only brought up when Hex has a corpse to interrogate. As Hex, Brolin appears just as economical; his role is one that practically anyone with a SAG card could handle. Still, Brolin spits out one-liners with satisfyingly grizzled aplomb. However, even Malkovich's baddie is outdone by his colorful henchmen, and Megan Fox -- well, her job is to be Megan Fox. She's there for Hex to have someone to rescue in the grand finale and, to the delight of red-blooded males all over, always look as if she's one cough away from bursting out of her delicates.
Each summer, so many films answer the call to go big or go home, and so few are up to the challenge. In a less competitive season, action buffs might have a grand ol' time with Jonah Hex, but with The A-Team working overtime, it just can't keep up. A great flick it's not, let alone among the cream of the comic world's crop, but barring further critical drubbings, we just may have a guilty pleasure in the making here.
(Released by Warner Bros. Pictures and rated "PG-13" for intense sequences of violence and action, disturging images and sexual content.)
MY RATING: ** 1/2 (out of ****)