One of my favorite movie scenes comes from The Muppet Christmas Carol where those wonderful old codgers, Statler and Waldorf, offer this critique: "It was dumb. It was obvious. It was pointless. It was… short… I loved it!" Viewing Jonah Hex left me feeling the same way. Frankly, every now and again a movie’s running time may be its best asset, and such is the case with this production’s scant 82 minutes.
Based on a comic book character, Jonah (Josh Brolin) is a bounty hunter in the 1800s. He turns bad after getting burned with a branding iron while being forced to watch his wife and son consumed in their flaming home. The torching is an act of vengeance exacted by Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich) in exchange for the death of his son (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) at Jonah’s hands.
After the gruesome attack, Jonah is left to die—and that’s where fate intervenes. Discovered by some local natives with mysterious healing powers, the near-corpse is given a second chance at life. Even better, their magic cure endows him with what every comic book character needs—a super power. In this case, Jonah acquires the ability to bring a person back from the dead just long enough to have a brief conversation. With all the bullets and bombs that blast in this film, it’s a very handy skill to possess.
Time passes until 1876, the centennial year of the United States of America. Turnbull has used this interval to amass a team of thugs and become the Osama bin Laden of the 19th Century. Along with the massive stores of dynamite and weapons he has collected, the tyrant is determined to build the ultimate "nation killer." This device looks somewhat like a turret cannon, but is capable of launching bowling-ball-sized ammunition. When its shot hits the ground, it just smolders. Then a single glowing orb is also lobed into the vicinity resulting in a tremendous explosion that flattens everything.
Helpless to know how to defend the country against this madman, the US military leaders give the advice every comic book hero needs to hear: "President Grant, the fate of our nation rests on Jonah Hex." Now the man with the frightening facial disfiguration is given the political permission to do whatever he wants to bring down the terrorist.
Like the film’s runtime, the storyline is also kept short. Instead of plot development, the rest of the cinematic experience is filled with scenes of mass killings involving a variety of weapons, some of which I’m quite certain didn’t exist during this historical period. (Mind you, neither did the annoying metal guitar that constantly pounds throughout the musical score.) Put simply, in this type of movie the only people who aren’t killed without hesitation are the immortal protagonist and antagonist. Oh, and Meagan Fox (playing a saloon hooker) is also spared. After all, she’s the sole woman in this tale and her cleavage is the only force that can stop the lead from flying across the screen for a few moments.
All this violence is chased down by only a few stiff drinks, some implied sexuality and a smattering of profanities. Even so, something tells me our Muppet critics would still boo this hero off the screen for being dumb, obvious, pointless and returning a high cost per minute for your entertainment dollar.