Jonah Hex is a guy movie for guys who dig movies about guys who eat lead for breakfast and refuse to die until their vengeance is done.
Much will be made of this movie’s scant 80-minute run time (including a healthy 5 minutes of end credits). Given it’s a grown-up, live-action feature film, that’s the kind of brevity that hasn’t been all that common since, roughly, the 1940s.
But that shortness seems to be the modus operandi of the screenwriting duo Neveldine & Taylor, the same screen scribes behind the Crank trilogy. Their longest opus clocks in around 96 minutes. Or maybe it has to do with the movie’s own behind-the-scenes production traumas that seemingly shook up everything from the director’s chair to the composers’ studio.
Cut to the chase. This is the kind of film-stock-ain’t-cheap storytelling that establishes Jonah’s entire back story before the opening ti
And, while it’s based on the second-tier DC comic book, this movie feels a heckuva lot like an episode of the classic Wild Wild West (the Robert Conrad version, not Will Smith) mixed with some Sin City sensibilities (or, more precisely, Sin City’s lack of sensibilities).
Jonah Hex is all about murder and revenge.
During the course of the Civil War, Jonah (Josh Brolin, No Country for Old Men) killed Quentin Turnbull’s son. Out of revenge, Quentin (John Malkovich, Changeling), burned Jonah’s house down – with Jonah’s wife and son inside and Jonah tied to a cross, forced to witness the death and destruction.
As a memento of the occasion, Quentin also burned his “QT” brand into Jonah’s right cheek, something Jonah later took a hot axe to in order to scrape it off.
He didn’t do a very good job. Scarred with a big gaping hole at the corner of his mouth, at least Jonah keeps a sense of humor about himself and remarks that he cut himself while shaving when asked about the disfigurement.
That Quentin guy has gone on to plan an insurgence against the U.S. government in retribution for all the injustice of the Civil War. Jonah, feeling the need for pain relief, has committed himself to a life as a bounty hunter.
Enter President Grant (Aidan Quinn, Legends of the Fall) and that Wild Wild West vibe.
Grant tracks down Jonah, enlisting him to hunt down and kill his nemesis. As for Quentin, he’s got his hands on some weapons of mass destruction designed by none other than Eli Whitney, creator of the much more peaceful cotton gin. Only 10 days separate Grant from annihilation.
The clock is ticking...
There’s no denying Jonah Hex is a faulty movie. It leaps around from location to location with no acknowledgement that Jonah seems to cover a heckuva lot of ground very quickly by horseback – and with a dog in tow. And that 80-minute run time makes the theatrical value proposition a tough call. There’s certainly the possibility Jonah Hex will find greater success on home video.
But, dang, it’s hard to argue with a movie when the protagonist wipes out a town full of creeps using the Gatling guns strapped under his saddle bags. That scene sums up where the movie’s coming from: no-holds-barred comic book absurdity, presented with a fair amount of aplomb by Jimmy Hayward, who spent the bulk of his career as an animator on a number of Pixar flicks before directing Horton Hears a Who!
While a little more delving into the creepy supernatural side of the Jonah Hex mythos would’ve been nice – he has the ability to talk to dead people – there’s just enough thought behind the lead characters to keep things interesting. It’s observed by another character that Jonah and Quentin are two men bent on murdering people in order to make their own pain go away.
Even with that dark motif, there’s a sense of humor about Jonah Hex that keeps things in an odd balance. Things are so over the top, the movie calls to mind Jack Palance in City Slickers; as a tough-as-nails cowboy he quipped about how his shits were bigger than Billy Crystal.
Well, no doubt Jonah’s are, too.