Missing from photo: Josh Brolin making “Pew pew!” noises.
If this year’s speculative-cinema offerings have taught us anything, it’s that many speculative movies are bad. Many of them are very bad. But every once in a while, a movie comes along that is so gleefully bad, so delightfully awful, so surreally self-serious, that it transcends every rubric of quality and ascends in the camp canon as unintentional comedy gold.
In completely unrelated news, let’s talk about Jonah Hex.
The plot of the film can be boiled down as cleanly as any focus group could wish: Jonah Hex, grizzled bounty hunter with distinctive facial burns, rides through the Weird West kicking ass and taking names on his quest to kill Quentin Turnbull, the Confederate general who killed Jonah’s family. Turnbull and his henchmen are attempting to construct a nation-killer machine to ruin the tenuous post-Civil-War United States; after the Army recruits him, it’s officially up to Jonah to stop Turnbull for good.
On paper, this is a standard action Western. In execution, it becomes a thing of beauty. Take, for example, the early scene in which Jonah brings the bodies of four outlaw brothers to a grimy sheriff and his hygienically-challenged deputies to receive his bounty.
(Jonah arrives. All stare.)
Filthy Sheriff: Jooooonah Hex.
Filthy Deputy 1: Jooooonah Hex.
Filthy Deputy 2: Jooooonah Hex.
In the Jonah Hex drinking game, that’s already three shots.
Upon their refusal to pay, Jonah reveals horse-mounted machine guns, mows down the sheriff and all his men, anoints a stablehand the new sheriff, takes his money, and blows up half the town on his way out. (In these parts they don’t take kindly to breach of contract, I suppose.)
There’s no point in drinking every time Jonah Hex kills someone (there’s not enough booze in the world). However, the movie offers plenty of other opportunities.
You’d drink every time Jonah howled “TURNBULLLL!”, followed by a quick cut to him riding his horse across the plain. (His horse is astonishingly efficient; it crosses several of the southern states in the movie’s ten-day time frame. Giddyup!)
You’d drink every time there is a close-up of the absolutely adorable hellhound that follows Jonah on his adventures.
You’d drink every time someone reiterates information the characters already know, which happens remarkably often for a film that runs less than 80 minutes. Perhaps the best example is between John Malkovich (Turnbull) and Michael Fassbender (Standard Psycho Henchman), both of whom must have lost a bet to appear here, since they forego any attempt to act and mostly stand around trying to elbow the other one out of the frame.
(Turnbull and Burke survey the Nation-Killer machine, which looks suspiciously like a really big machine gun. Turns out it is a really big machine gun, detonated by horcruxes.)
Turnbull: Do you know anything about Eli Whitney?
Burke: Oh, no, I’m just an uneducated lad. Senior or Junior?
Turnbull: *chuckles* After Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, he was conscripted by the government to design weapons for them…
The exposition ends a few sentences later, but the grandeur of this moment will never go.
Of course, it’s not just the dialogue carrying this movie to unintentional-comedy heights. At one point in the film, Jonah and Turnbull fight. The real-time fight is intercut with their fight on the astral plane, during which there are flashbacks to an unrelated scene AND a voiceover talking about the thematic importance of what’s happening.
Josh Brolin makes his way through the film looking vaguely sheepish, a feeling that’s magnified whenever he meets up with one of the cavalcade of actors from whom you expect more: Fassbender, Will Arnett, Wes Bentley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Aidan Quinn. It’s the actors from whom we don’t expect more (Malkovich and Megan Fox) who seem the most comfortable; Fox because the movie asks nothing from her except to look dewy, Malkovich because that’s just how he’s going to play everything from now on.
Luckily, the abridged running time means that scenes happen at a clip that prevents anything from getting old, so when Jonah brings a soldier back from the dead (P.S. he can do that, fun fact) and exposits at length about what he’s doing as he does it, “at length” means “for about thirty seconds until he yells ‘Turnbull!’ and it cuts to a shot of him riding his horse really fast.”
We all know Jonah is bound to succeed, which might feel like a triumph except there’s no telling what it’s even a triumph over. Just know that after the scene in which the President hands Jonah an enormous silver-star badge and offers to make him Sheriff of America (oh, it happens), you can enjoy the heartfelt Confederate anthem that plays over the closing credits. (Belated political undercurrent! Drain your glass!)
Though I cannot recommend this film in any way as an example of skillful, or even competent, moviemaking, I can confirm that Jonah Hex is Weird West’s answer to LXG; a movie so bad, it’s extraordinary.
Genevieve will never cease to be surprised by how many times you can laugh in less than 80 minutes when the movie’s not supposed to be funny. She writes about movies and other unintential comedy on her blog.