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I'm a longtime contributor to MTV, Billboard, Alternative Press and MovieWeb. I've worked as on-air reporter, host, writer and producer for MTV, MSNBC and E!. I have provided opinion and commentary to programs on VH1, IFC, G4, Fuse, Current and Oxygen. I have written for Huffington Post, Premiere, OC Weekly, SFGate.com, NextMovie.com, MTV's television and movie blogs and other publications. I am the founder of Superhero Productions, providing broadcast, online and aftermarket content for a number of clients including Lionsgate, Sony and Warner Bros. I personally handle artist management for a handful of bands. "Ryan Downey has established a history of breaking some good scoops in the last few years, and you could certainly do worse than bookmark [him] to check in on." -- Ain't It Cool

Friday, June 18, 2010

Movie Review: "Jonah Hex"

Directed By: Jimmy Hayward
Starring: Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Megan Fox
1 Star

How the heck do you screw up Josh Brolin as a gruff anti-hero, great comic book source material, Mastodon doing most of the score and Megan Fox in a corset? Look no further than "Jonah Hex," which manages to shamelessly squander all of the above with gusto.

Working as a bounty hunter in the post-Civil War South, Jonah Hex (Brolin) is a Confederate veteran who lost everything at the hands of an evil General (Malkovich) whose orders he refused to obey. Granted the supernatural ability to talk to the dead during the near-death experience that earned him an atrocious facial scar, Hex can survive multiple gunshots but is easily knocked unconscious when the story demands it. We see him resurrect dead people to have conversations multiple times, without the movie ever addressing why he doesn't pull the same trick with his murdered family.

And that's just the beginning of this movie's problems.

Doing his best Christian Bale as Batman voice and his worst Clint Eastwood in every Western squinting, the normally reliable Brolin is hamstrung by a complete lack of characterization, story or anything else resembling a real movie.

In case you thought "Jonah Hex" would be more "Deadwood" than "Wild Wild West" (the best hip-hop sci-fi Western, to be sure), The Evil General is building an Impossible Super Weapon. Does Hex stop him? Well, first he has to make eye contact, so Malkovich (sleepwalking as a bad guy without a back story) can yell "Kill him!" at his disposable soldiers.

And then Hex has to have a battle, and then a final battle, with the Evil General's top henchman, an Irishman (with tribal face ink... Tons of those in the South) played by a bowler hat wearing and Crocodile Dundee knife wielding Michael Fassbender. Fassbender manages to be the only almost interesting thing in this movie, other than the scene where a Crow crawls out of Jonah Hex's mouth during a Native American resurrection ritual (makes even less sense when you see it).

So isn't Megan Fox as a hooker with a heart of gold, in a corset and garters, enough to make this movie bearable? Nope. She's barely in the picture and when she is, she isn't really... You know, acting. Hey, I enjoy looking at her as much as the next guy, but if she's going to be more than a celebrity or model, she needs to show us some chops. And thus far, she hasn't chosen any material that would allow that.

How about that score by Mastodon? It isn't bad, but it's very misplaced, mixed way too loudly and generally just really distracting. I almost put in earplugs at the screening. And I love Mastodon! But covering story holes with droning instrumental metal isn't movie making, even when it's written and recorded by a great band.

With a running time of less than eighty minutes without the credits, there are plenty of blink and you'll miss them "performances." Remember when Wes Bentley had a promising career? He's in the movie for two scenes: the one where Malkovich threatens him and the one where Malkovich kills him. Will Arenett, as a military man, is impossible to take seriously. It's an SNL sketch, or "30 Rock," whenever he's onscreen playing serious. Maybe he can do dramatic, but this wasn't the place to find out.

Brolin is supposed to be a big meanie, but we sympathize with him. He lost his family, he's sarcastic, he kills awful people, he hates the government. What's not to like?

To add insult to injury, "Jonah Hex" lacks the confidence to even let the "anti-hero" be a real Confederate veteran. They make sure to shove in a scene with a Black Friend. And just in case that alone didn't get the job done, the Black Friend then proceeds to (inexplicably) point out to Hex that he knows he only fought with the Confederacy because he hates government interference (Tea Party shout-out!) and not because of slavery. Thanks! I love when filmmakers explain things to us dumb moviegoers.

Don't bother with back stories for any of these people, or any kind of rulebook for the supernatural or superpowers. Just make sure we know the Confederate anti-hero doesn't have a racist bone in his body, even in the post-Civil War South. Whew!

I can't believe I'm about to type this (Mastodon! Western! DC Comics! Megan Fox in a corset! Talking to the dead! Crows!), but "Jonah Hex" is the worst movie I've seen this year. Yes, it's worse than "Letters to Juliet."

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