'Jonah Hex' with Josh Brolin: Not much more than an ugly face

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 18, 2010; C03

"Jonah Hex" may not be the longest 81 minutes you ever spend, but it might well be the most tedious. Inspired by the comic-book cowboy character of the same name -- a scar-faced Civil War-era bounty hunter who can commune with the dead, and who seems impervious to bullets himself -- the movie plods forward, one leaden step at a time, in single-minded pursuit of a goal.

No, not brains, as in some zombie movies.

There's precious little of that commodity here, under the serviceable but uninspired direction of Jimmy Hayward, making his live-action debut after "Horton Hears a Who." Instead, Hex (Josh Brolin) is driven by revenge. Revenge for his slain wife and child, who were murdered by a demented Confederate officer named Turnbull (John Malkovich, in full snake mode). In a prologue, we learn that they were killed as punishment for the death of Turnbull's son (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) at Hex's hands.

Will Hex catch Turnbull? And will he be able to stop him in his fiendish plan to attack Washington with a secret, and wildly implausible, super-weapon?

Who cares.

There are diversions along the way. Megan Fox is one. As the prostitute Lilah and Hex's love interest, Fox, the buxom hottie of "Transformers" fame, will appeal to the same lad-mag crowd that "Jonah Hex's" crunching hard-rock score does.

Michael Fassbender ("Inglourious Basterds") makes an interesting-enough villain as Turnbull's tattooed Irish henchman, Burke. Though, truth be told, his fights with Hex only serve to prolong the story unnecessarily.

As for the title character, Brolin has a suitably embittered, hard-boiled presence. Most of his acting, however, is done by his facial prosthesis, a gruesome-looking hole in his right cheek, courtesy of Turnbull, that has left him with a mouth that doesn't quite work. No matter. There's nothing of particular importance in the dialogue, which largely consists of such schoolyard taunts as "Is that all you've got?"

Of course there's plenty of shooting, if you like that sort of thing, including from Hex's horse-mounted, twin Gatling guns, which are kind of cool. But the way Hex can resurrect a corpse, simply by touching it, to perform a bit of postmortem interrogation, is the film's most original touch.

Would that he could accomplish that same miracle with the film. Like Hex himself, the movie may not exactly be dead, but it sure as heck ain't living.

Jonah Hex

* 1/2

(81 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for frequent violence and brief sensuality.

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