Combine the talents of “Crank” screenwriters Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor with the directorship of Jimmy Hayward (“Horton Hears a Who”) and you are left with what Mr. Fox would call a “total clustercuss.” Many of the fundamentals employed by hyperactive Western “Jonah Hex” may flourish in movies of a different consistency, but they just don’t work here. Spoiler alert: This movie sucks. Under no circumstances should you see it in theaters.

“Jonah Hex”

At Quality 16 and Rave
Warner Bros.

The story is simple. Disfigured bounty hunter Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin, “No Country for Old Men”) is on a quest of vengeance; his old Civil War friend, Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich, “Burn After Reading”), killed his family and forced him to observe every lurid detail of it. Quentin – who looks more like a portly Spanish conquistador than a hardened Civil War vet — claims that his calculated actions are justified and vaguely implies that Jonah is responsible for his family’s death as well. Apparently we’re not supposed to know exactly why (the deplorability of this omission will be addressed later). This may be the filmmakers’ attempt to shroud the story in mystery, but it really comes off as more of a manipulative, half-assed tactic to make us side with the protagonist’s bloodlust.

It seems that this film’s only effectiveness is its ability to waste the tremendous potential of its ensemble cast — the one exception being the lovely yet decidedly unpromising Megan Fox, of course. Brolin’s moving performance in “No Country for Old Men” is quickly forgotten here, as the psychologically complex stoicism of Llewellyn Moss is traded in for the vengeful Hex’s simplistic monotone before our very eyes.

Not that all vengeance films are bad: 2004’s “The Punisher” was unquestionably lowbrow, but in the delightfully careless manner we expect from a movie that’s proud of its lack of principle. Such shameless entertainment is enjoyable in its own right, but “Hex” doesn’t seem to know what kind of film it wants to be. Perhaps this is a consequence of the obviously contradictory interests of a PG-13-rated writing team that preoccupies its movies with cocaine, brutal Triad gangs and public sex scenes, combined with a director whose tour de force was an animated comedy featuring a elephant and a Who from Whoville.

Even more embarrassing is “Hex”’s pathetically short 80-minute runtime. The plot details delineated in the comic book series are more than adequate for even a sub-par screenwriter to borrow generously from. Unfortunately, the writers were unaware of this; the movie’s plot sacrifices some of the most essential elements of the comic books’ narratives (like the reason why Quentin is motivated to kill Jonah’s family) and trades them in for uselessly re-routed plot details, an entirely unsuccessful attempt at nonconformity.

As a result of these shortfalls, another comic book adaptation with great potential will fall by the wayside. Cross your fingers and hope that this painful cycle is not repeated with a “Jonah Hex” sequel – luckily, the ridiculously abrupt ending didn’t suggest that such a travesty would occur.

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