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As unlikely as it sounds, the best film this weekend doesn’t concern a tired assembly of discarded playthings gussied up in 3D. “Jonah Hex” is a testosterone fueled thrill ride, a flawed but fantastically entertaining adventure in the ever so wild west. Forget Woody and Buzz, the wildest ride this weekend ends with a hex.
Jonah Hex has a scarred face and vengeance burned deep in his heart and you can’t really blame him. As a Confederate soldier, his family was burned alive after he killed the son of his psychotic commanding officer. As a memento of the occasion, his commander also burns his initials into Hex’s face so he never forgets who took everything he loved from him. Hex turns to bounty hunting, taking out his fury on those unfortunate enough to have a price on their heads big enough to attract his attention. But it seems his old commander, Quentin Turnbull, is back to his old tricks. None too happy the South lost the Civil War, he’s stolen a weapon of immense destructive power to help the South rise again. Only Hex can stop his nemesis from leveling Washington D.C. during America’s first centennial–and settle an old score in the process.
Casting Josh Brolin as Jonah Hex was nothing short of genius, he literally is the ornery ol’ cuss/one man army that is Hex. Makeup effects on the title character is impressive, making his scarring look painfully realistic. As Turnbull, John Malkovich smartly plays his character with a restrained internal evil. He speaks softly, but his actions are lethal and deadly and he’s no one to underestimate. Lance Reddick of “Fringe” fame cameos as Hex’s armorer and possibly only friend; but he’s really there just to show that Hex isn’t racist, but just opposed the Union during the Civil War because he didn’t like being told what to do. Jeffrey Dean Morgan does a nice uncredited turn as Turnbull’s son and former friend, whose death resulted in Jonah’s life barreling downhill.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Megan Fox is useless as Hex’s love interest, who appears briefly before being used as bait to capture him in the finale. Serving little purpose in the movie save for eye candy, she really doesn’t justify whatever it cost to sign her. Wes Bentley is seen equally briefly as a spy for Turnbull, but he’s barely in the film to make any impact. Aidan Quinn is a fine actor cast in a juicy part of President Ulysses S. Grant, but he’s reduced to sitting in his office looking concerned and wringing his hands. Not exactly what you’d expect from the leader of the free world.
The running time for “Jonah Hex” is a brief 80 minutes, and normally that would be a problem. But director Jimmy Hayward lets it all zip by, stopping briefly for an edifying plot point before leaping back into rousing gunfire. Special commendations go to scripters Brian Taylor, William Farmer, and Mark Nevedine, who combine the western and mystical aspects of the character into a coherent and immensely entertaining movie. The opening animation scenes are visually modern with a western flair, a perfect tribute to the film’s DC Comics roots.
“Jonah Hex” isn’t a perfect film. but it’s a helluva lot of fun. Briskly paced, and chock full of pyrotechnic action, it’s the perfect antidote to this year’s summer blahs. Let Woody and his pals sit in the toy box, you’ll have way more fun riding with Jonah.
Jimmy Hayward (director) / William Farmer , Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor (screenplay)
CAST: Josh Brolin … Jonah Hex
John Malkovich … Quentin Turnbull
Megan Fox … Lilah
Michael Fassbender … Burke
Will Arnett … Lieutenant Grass
John Gallagher Jr. … Lieutenant Evan
Tom Wopat … Colonel Slocum
Michael Shannon … Doc Cross Williams
Wes Bentley … Adleman Lusk
Julia Jones … Cassie