“Jonah Hex” may be the most obscure “tentpole” film of 2010. It may, in fact, be one of the most under-publicized “tentpoles” ever.
Warner Bros. has so far expended few resources on advertising the film. With “Hex” set for release near the height of the summer movie season — in less than a month — one has to wonder if Warner Bros. has given up on “Hex.” And if so, why release it during one of the most competitive parts of the year?
The problem starts with the film’s production, which was hindered from the outset by creative differences between Warner Bros., the film’s first directors and Josh Brolin — Hex’s star. Warner initially hired Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (“Crank”) to write and direct, but Brolin didn’t agree with their vision. He cared even less for their script, describing it in an interview with MTV in late 2008 as “awful.” Warner Bros. replaced the pair with Jimmy Hayward (“Horton Hears a Who!”), but, to Brolin’s chagrin, retained their script. At the time, Brolin told MTV he “fell in love with the challenge of doing ‘the most awful movie I can find.’” Right.
Fast forward to January of this year, when Warner Bros. recalled the principals for 10 days of reshoots, including more than 12 pages of new script. At that point, there’d been little news regarding “Hex” and no clips or even a teaser. “Hex” was starting to sound like it lacked cohesion, identity and, probably, entertainment value.
Finally, less than two months before release, Warner serves up “Hex’s” first trailer. Considering all this negativity, it might be somewhat bewildering for me to characterize this clip as “intriguing,” but that’s exactly my reaction. For one, it looks like the filmmakers used their $50 million-plus budget well; the clip has a polished look and a modest sense of style.
The opening moments, too, remind me of Clint Eastwood’s 1976 western “The Outlaw Josey Wales.” Considering how beloved that film is, that’s potentially high praise; it might also be the tell-tale sign of a ripoff. The remainder of the clip recalled — to a very slight degree — Eastwood’s “High Plains Drifter” (1973) and — to a much larger degree — 1999’s “Wild Wild West.” The latter is certainly no compliment and, if valid, would justify all the concerns surrounding this film. Brolin’s performance here gives me pause as well. He comes across as a kind of weird hybrid of Karl Childers from “Sling Blade” (1996) and Llewellyn Moss, his own character from “No Country for Old Men” (2007).
In its favor, this supernatural wild-west tale of vengeance certainly has a solid cast. Besides Brolin, that cast includes John Malkovich, the lovely Megan Fox, Will Arnett and Aidan Quinn.
All in all, I’m not terribly enthusiastic about seeing “Hex” in theaters, but am looking forward to it on DVD; I probably won’t have to wait long, either. With its lack of publicity and tales of behind-the-scenes disunity, “Hex” likely won’t survive long amongst summer’s popcorn minefield.
“Jonah Hex” opens nationwide on June 18.
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