Nobody will accuse Josh Brolin of pulling a pretty-boy card in his latest role. As Jonah Hex, the hell-bent gunslinger, bullet-impervious post-Civil War bounty hunter, Brolin sports a mangled mug and a permanent air-sucking snarl which could be called the opposite of a facelift. In other facial news, the crazed former Confederate officer Quentin Turnbull, who has visions of anarchy and payback after losing the war, is played with longhaired grizzliness by John Malkovich, who puts his slightly cross-eyed visage to good use in the über-villain role. And in between these visions of ugliness is one Megan Fox, again cast in a role that finds her living up to her last name, as a prostitute most often seen in fancy undergarments.
If this visual scheme seems cartoony, it is, according to plan. Jonah Hex, based on the DC comic book, takes a fresh spin at the Western genre, going freely over the top while also checking in with cozy old cultural clichés. Brolin is your standard lone gunman, at the ready with one-liners and killer aim, but Native Americans also invest him with mystical powers: “a knack” for briefly bringing corpses to semi-life. In the artillery department, Hex ain’t messing around, bearing mini-Gatling guns under his overcoat, and procuring a fancy mutant weapon that’s part holster-sized crossbow and part rocket launcher—a mash-up gun well placed in a mash-up neo-Western. But Hex’s arsenal is nothing compared to his foe Turnbull’s evil scheme, to deploy a strange proto-WMD—a “super weapon, nation-killer”—and wreak havoc over our nation’s Centennial.
A crazed genre-bender movie, like a latter-day twist on the old semi-sci-fi television western Wild, Wild West, Jonah Hex wears its narrative and stylistic audacity proudly, but at the expense of our bearings and empathy with the story and its characters, however archetypal/anti-archetypal. Marco (The Hurt Locker) Beltrami’s musical score, for instance, moves from spaghetti-westernized baritone guitar to heavy metal distortion from Mastadon, the kind of sonic touch germane to the world of comic book fans and video gamers. In other words, there’s something for everyone here, to a fault. But sinister fun lines the way.