Alan Jones joins us once again for a guest review, this time for Jonah Hex. Alan is president of the University of Toronto Cinema Studies Students Union (CINSSU). This review and many others can be read on the official CINSSU blog.
The American Western has fallen in stature considerably since its days as a staple of the Hollywood studio system. The last time a major studio decided to count on a Western as a blockbuster, we got the awful Wild Wild West, a sci-fi influenced Western that stands out as a large blemish on the otherwise impressive career of Will Smith. It appears that Hollywood has learned nothing since then in developing big-budget Westerns, as Jonah Hex, which opens today, is another sci-fi influenced Western which offers nothing to the discerning viewer but blandly photographed explosions and an eccentric, but misused cast.
Of course, unlike Wild Wild West, this film is an adaptation of a graphic novel and was green-lit after a number of other graphic novels got the go ahead. Originally, however, Jonah Hex was meant to be written and directed by the inconsistent, possibly insane, but never boring team of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who are best known for their hyper-stylized low budget work on the Crank franchise. Considering what those two did with Corey Haim in Crank: High Voltage, one wonders if Will Arnett would have seemed so completely miscast with them in charge. But due to “creative differences”, Jimmy Hayward, whose only experience as a director came from the animated Horton Hears a Who, replaced these two as director. As a result, Jonah Hex is a shell of its possible self, with sometimes (slightly) interesting writing compromised by hopelessly incompetent filmmaking.
The film tells the story of Jonah Hex, a former Confederate soldier searching for vengeance in the post-Civil War West after a Confederate general (John Malkovich) killed his family and made one side of his face look like a slice of cold pizza with a branding iron. Interestingly, John Malkovich’s general, a Confederate holdout, is more interested in destroying the American government than replacing it with his own. He also employs terrorist tactics that often result in dead civilians, at one point utilizing suicide bombers on a train instead of robbing it. Yup, General Turnbull is an allegorical stand-in for radical Islamist terrorists, he even tries to build a weapon of mass destruction (this is where the sci-fi influence pokes its head out).
Jonah Hex is to Westerns what last year’s Sherlock Holmes is to Victorian-era mysteries: sexed-up (by way of a comely prostitute played by Megan Fox) and with more explosions. But while I wasn’t a fan of that movie, at least it could rely on the chemistry between Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law along with some ambitious action scenes; this film has nothing. Any allegorical message it may have started out with are lost in the overblown, underwritten and poorly conceived finale, which is the worst part of the film. Jonah Hex appears to have been cut down to only its barest plot points and loudest of action scenes.
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