Bad movies aren’t what they used to be. More specifically, bad movies that make it into theaters these days usually have a base level of competence that sets them apart from the bad movies of yesteryear. Dullness dwells where incompetence used to call home. The Raja Gosnells far outnumber the Ed Woods. But every once in a while, a film limps into theaters so stitched together, it’s a wonder it doesn’t rip apart in the projector. Jonah Hex is such a film.
Loosely based on the adventures of a character introduced in the early 1970s as DC Comics’ answer to grim spaghetti and revisionist Westerns, Jonah Hex is the dark story of a tormented bounty hunter with a badly scarred face (Josh Brolin) who wanders the West taking whatever jobs come his way, living like an exile from the human race. No, wait, it’s about the lighthearted adventures of a gruff, wisecracking, badly scarred bounty hunter who has all sorts of cool gadgets, like a horse outfitted with Gatling guns. No, that isn’t entirely right. It’s the story of a disgruntled Confederate colonel (John Malkovich) who, on the eve of America’s centennial, turns terrorist (contemporary resonance!) and attempts to destroy Washington D.C. using a 19th-century super-weapon. Only one man can stop him, the man he hates most in the world: an elusive, badly scarred bounty hunter who has the ability to briefly raise and converse with the dead, like Lee Pace in Pushing Daisies, but without the pies.
Rumors of trouble dogged Jonah Hex’s production from the time its original directors, the Crank writing-directing team of Neveldine & Taylor, abandoned the project, up to when director Jimmy Hayward—an animation vet making his live-action debut—conducted last-minute reshoots with another director’s help. Trouble happens, of course, but the 81 minutes (including credits) of Jonah Hex footage that made it to the screen look like something assembled under a tight deadline, and possibly under the influence. One flashback makes three appearances. A fight scene with no dreamlike elements, apart from a sky tinted red in post-production, repeatedly appears as a dream sequence. A chunk of Hex’s origin is told by way of animation for no apparent reason. Narration comes and goes. Whole elements, like Hex’s supernatural powers and Megan Fox’s prostitute-in-distress, could disappear without anyone noticing. And that’s without even mentioning the Native American village that shows up at random. Or the CGI crows. Or the acid-spitting snake-man. (One element that occasionally gives the illusion of coherence: a neat spaghetti-metal score. But even that was cobbled together from separate work by Marco Beltrami and Mastodon.) Jonah Hex is what happens when someone promises to deliver a releasable movie by a certain date, and then doesn’t.