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MOVIE REVIEW

Jonah Hex

A mangled Western twitches and drags

Josh Brolin’s Jonah Hex scowls and lumbers through a post-Civil War landscape, seeking to avenge his son’s death. Josh Brolin’s Jonah Hex scowls and lumbers through a post-Civil War landscape, seeking to avenge his son’s death. (Warner Bros.)
By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / June 18, 2010

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The only thing sadder than Jonah Hex is what appears to have happened to his movie. Hex (Josh Brolin) is a renegade Confederate soldier and bounty hunter looking to finish off the general (John Malkovich) who killed his son and burned half his face. The movie began life as a macabre postbellum western for DC Comics. Now it’s lumbering action-camp following a video game plot.

Brolin scowls throughout most of “Jonah Hex.’’ But other actors and subplots pop up then vanish. Michael Shannon, Will Arnett, Aidan Quinn, (as U.S. Grant, no less) Michael Fassbender, that guy from “The Watchmen’’ (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the dude from “American Beauty’’ (Wes Bentley), the enticingly poised lieutenant from “The Wire’’ (Lance Reddick), the chick in the ads for the next “Twilight’’ movie (Julia Jones): They all come and more or less go.

It’s unclear how long this movie was meant to be. But at 81 minutes, it’s charred, bullet-riddled mulch. You can see the longer movie twitching around inside the shorter one. Even then, time refuses to fly. It drags, although not entirely unpleasantly. I like the violence in Mastodon’s guitar-sludge score. And I’m still amazed by how the effects department managed to make Jonah’s facial scar look so believable. It’s like it was cooked in a George Foreman grill. A band of skin reaches from his cheek almost to his chin, keeping his jaw from hanging open — it’s a mouth and a drawbridge. Brolin appears to be having a decent time clenching his quips with it. He’s laboring though. Clint Eastwood makes that look so easy.

So do Eastwood’s movies, from which this liposuctioned blockbuster cribs. But the director, Jimmy Hayward, appears to be following Warner Bros. notes for when to blow up something. With all respect, placing your next action franchise in the care of the man responsible for “Horton Hears a Who!’’ does not speak highly of your enthusiasm for future installments.

Opportunities go begging for pulp or historical rethinking (news of American Indians and freed slaves crop up, and, boy, does Jonah seem like a crypto-libertarian). Instead, the movie offers the standard cartoon warfare — the Gatling guns come in so many sizes! — and bowdlerizes the comic book for maximum box office effect.

Now “the very fate of our nation rests with Jonah Hex.’’ He has supernatural powers (he talks to the dead; thanks, Crow Indians!) and lies in bed with Megan Fox, who’s been cast and clothed, so imaginatively, as a wild-west prostitute. She damsels too easily. In her close-ups, Fox appears to be staring out from a music box or a department store window. If she won’t be returning to “Transformers’’ and she’s looking for a new recycled franchise, might I suggest “Mannequin?’’

The movie’s desperate, mangled assembly does produce an unexpected side effect. The general incoherence is almost druggy (one of the production companies is Weed Pictures). From Warner Bros.’ standpoint, this seems apt. If the studio thinks this is its next “Batman,’’ it might be high.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. For more on movies, go to www.boston.com/movienation.

JONAH HEX

Directed by: Jimmy Heyward

Written by: Neveldine

and Taylor

Starring: Josh Brolin, Megan Fox, and John Malkovich

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 81 minutes

Rated: R

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