Jonah Hex reminds us of how cool Josh Brolin looks on a horse, how at home he seems with a six-shooter, and how perfect his growl is for a laconic, cowboy bounty hunter one-liner.
"Five coffins," he counts, Eastwood-style, to some double-dealing townsfolk who would rather shoot him than pay him the bounty he's owed. "Sure you don't need eight?"
Yup. They do.
Brolin is so damned good in the saddle, in the hat and in the part that a half-sober viewer could half forget how half-arsed this movie he's starring in is. A hellbound comic book melding of the spaghetti Westerns of Clint and the colossal folly of The Wild Wild West, Jonah Hex is a good performance and a few good lines buried in a script whose authors should do a little time in writer's hell for scribbling it.
We meet the Civil War vet in a flashback/semi-animated opening. He fought for the South, turned on the murderously anarchic terrorist ( John Malkovich) who commanded him, and lived to see his family murdered for his conscience and his face branded to remind him who did it.
He hunted the guilty, communes with the dead, "Kinduva knack I picked up when I near died myself," and hangs out with the Old West hooker Lila, played by the wasp-waisted Megan Fox -- a talentless child sharing scenes with a grown man.
Vengeance is as close as the twin Gatling guns he keeps mounted on his saddle. Torment is as near as his next flash of memory. the first 30 minutes of this film from the director of Horton Hears a Who wouldn't embarrass Eastwood or The Duke. This is dark, dusty violence, up close and personal, and delivered with a chaw and a spit.
"Git lost or git dead."
Then Turnbull gets his hands on "the ultimate weapon" and the movie goes straight to that place Hex knows he's headed, even as he tries to put off that final arrival long enough to have his revenge.
One very good scene -- Hex chatting with the corpse of Turnbull's son ( Jeffrey Dean Morgan) about where the crazy old mass murdering gummit-hating Tea Partier is hiding out. Bad scenes? Any moment where geography is discussed (the screenwriters don't seem to know where Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia are in relation to The Old West) or when that idiotic "ultimate weapon" is brought out.
Animator turned director Jimmy Hayward keeps things light, easy enough to do when the movie's short (it was plainly whittled down) and the dialog is comic-book punchy.
"Dirt likes dead, dead likes dirt. Simple as that," Brolin growls about what "cures" the pain of the corpses he arouses.
Malkovich is a worthy, if overused villain, a guy who can deliver a flinty line with the best of them.
"Hex doesn't know how to die. He'll have to be educated."
But the anachronisms pile up around them like so many horse patties, the fights turn repetitious and the finale plays like an outtake from the biggest flop of Will Smith's career.
So take Jonah Hex for what it is, an audition for the big, bad Western that Josh Brolin followed it with -- True Grit -- and the promise of more. We have found our new Eastwood, pardners. We've just got to get him fresh horses.
See for yourself
Cast: Josh Brolin, Megan Fox, John Malkovich, Will Arnett
Director: Jimmy Hayward
Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Industry rating: PG-13 for "intense sequences of violence and action, disturbing images and sexual content."