Jonah Hex represents a cataclysmic failure of every facet of filmmaking, from directing to editing and writing to acting. The standard excuse wheeled out was that this was a ‘troubled production’, as though audiences should be expected to pay up out of pity for the poor dears who suffered so badly to get this corrosive, seemingly unfinished mess to screen. If the cast and crew of Jonah Hex, or anyone from Warner Bros’ marketing department involved with trying to sell such a poisonous experience to the masses, wants to know true suffering, they should be forced to sit through it.
In fact, that would be a half-decent solution to all of cinema’s woes: if the likes of M. Night Shymalan, Paul W.S. Anderson or Kurt Wimmer were made to sit down and not only endure the pain of all the garbage they’ve forced into cinemas over the years, but also see debilitating effects of their movies on poor innocent audiences paying for the privilege of their agony, I bet there’d be some hesitation before making anything so loathsome as Lady In The Water again.
Director Jimmy Hayward’s Hex doesn’t even have the common decency to be funny, but then movies that fall into the ‘so bad they’re good’ category tend to be the product of spectacularly misdirected passion or self-delusion. Say what you like about Plan 9 From Outer Space, Manos: The Hands of Fate or The Room, their creators obviously believed they were making something genuinely great: which they were, just not in the way that had been initially imagined. From the very beginning of Hex by contrast, the feeling pervades that the whole crew had given up and were forcing themselves to get to the end of production by the quickest route possible. Even taking into account that the film was lacerated after negative test screenings – and test screenings, it should be pointed out, are not always a reliable measure by which to judge whether a film is good or not – there’s nothing here to indicate that it might once have been any better than the end result, even if the optimist in you will hope that the earlier cut was a touch more coherent. If the test screenings can be thanked for one thing, it’s that the film now comes in at a threadbare eighty-two minutes, including eleven minutes of credits, perhaps its sole redeeming trait.
Other than that, the film is a technical disaster. Action scenes are shot so badly that it’s not only a challenge to work out where anyone is in relation to one another, but often just as difficult to even know what’s going on. This isn’t down to the usual shaky-cam complaints, but haphazard shot composition and editing. The resulting confusion makes sequences that should be the most exciting instead lifeless and frustrating, like Hex fighting through a fort and shooting enemies with explosive crossbow arrows. Such moments were obviously included because they sounded cool to the writer and while it’s bad enough that neither the director nor editor were able to draw even a wisp of excitement from them, even on paper potentially nifty ideas are wasted by being used once and then immediately discarded. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll have seen Hex destroying a town with chainguns mounted on the side of his horse. That could have made a memorable weapon to be used against more formidable opponents or in more dangerous circumstances, but after that single scene they’re retired for good. Less inspired notions, like the glowing cannonballs (‘nation killers’) that antagonist Quentin Turnbull plans to fire on Washington DC during the Independence Day celebrations, are on the other hand made integral to the plot and their effects presented without much due paid to consistency. The scale of damage these ‘nation killers’ cause seems to vary depending on what the plot needs them to do.
This lax attitude towards continuity extends to all aspects of the writing. A supernatural element is introduced that wasn’t present in the original comics, but serves exclusively as a plot device to move Hex from place to place, interminably padding out the barely-there plot and never meshing with the rest of the story’s more grounded elements. If anything, it adds further confusion to a film that is already struggling to make sense and packed with directionless content: by the time ravens are flying out of people’s mouths and fistfights are cross-cut with other imaginary fistfights taking place between the same two people (then cut again between a whole other fight entirely), it becomes difficult not to believe that someone is playing an elaborate joke and will hop out from behind the screen at any moment to reveal that the audience has been taken in by some Candid Camera-esque prank.
Alas, no such luck: characters really aren’t any deeper than their single-cliché descriptions – Hex the renegade former soldier out for vengeance; Lilah the sassy hooker with a good heart; Turnbull the psychotic superior officer to the protagonist determined to exact revenge on the world, and so on – and often completely superfluous to the plot. Can anyone come up with an explanation as to what Lilah brings to the story, other than to get kidnapped at a crucial moment? What a talented comic like Will Arnett is doing in a straight-faced, single-scene role as Hex’s recruiting officer? The cast are uniformly dreadful, with Malkovich putting so little effort into his Turnbull that to say he phoned it in would be a massive overstatement, while Brolin looks perpetually confused and has to mumble to keep his lousy prosthetic scarring (which amounts to a flap of skin over the side of his mouth) from falling off, but who in their right minds would bother investing themselves into such lousy material? Why they signed up in the first place is the film’s only genuinely engaging question, as there’s a pretty snazzy cast on show here for such an abysmal project.
Sometimes films with worthless component parts can function passably as an entire experience, usually brainless blockbuster fun. (See Jerry Bruckheimer for more information). Hex is sadly nothing but the sum of its debilitated pieces and arduous to sit through no matter how much slack you cut it. It was undoubtedly the worst film of 2010 and a strong contender for worst of the decade too, unfortunate that the somehow-even-worse Wild Wild West (what is it with Hollywood and steampunk-westerns? It doesn’t bode well for Cowboys And Aliens) came in one year shy of the 21st Century. The only people who should see this are film students, who will get a comprehensive lesson in how not to direct, edit, write or act for the big screen. Even with extensive studio cutting rendering it a barely complete eighty-two minutes long, Jonah Hex feels eighty-two minutes too long.