Critics always gripe that movies are too long and could stand some pruning.
Then you get the occasional movie such as comic-book adaptation “Jonah Hex” that’s too short — so short, and so bad, you cringe at the thought of how awful whatever ended up on the cutting-room floor must be.
Part of what’s missing is the harder-core violence chopped to get “Jonah Hex” down to a PG-13 rating, the theory being that an R rating scares off customers. But the film starring Josh Brolin as a disfigured 19th century bounty hunter with his own connections to hell needed to take the gloves off.
This is a story about a man who watched his wife and son be burned alive, communes savagely with the dead, and vows unholy vengeance against the man responsible for all of his troubles.
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The subject matter alone will scare off a chunk of people, while the PG-13 rating will annoy many fans of the comic book. So the filmmakers have shot off both feet by telling a nasty story then dusting it in sugar.
Jonah Hex is a Confederate Civil War veteran who turns to hunting down bad guys after his family is immolated by evil-for-the-sake-of-being-evil villain Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich).
Turnbull also horribly scars Jonah’s face with a branding iron.
The whole experience somehow leaves Jonah able to bring the dead back to life momentarily with a touch so he can interrogate them.
With Turnbull aiming to unleash a doomsday weapon to destroy the United States as it celebrates its centennial, Jonah is enlisted by the federal government to stop the madman.
The action feels choppy and unfinished, continually and jarringly stacking up a colossal body count without showing the killshots that made so many people dead.
Such prudishness does not serve a supernatural story set in bloodthirsty pioneer days.
Jimmy Hayward, who directed the animated hit “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!” and was an animator on “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo” and other beloved Pixar films, makes his live-action directing debut on “Jonah Hex.” That career progression is so puzzling, it’s best to leave it alone.
The film is adapted from the DC Comics series by screenwriters Mark Neveldene and Brian Taylor, who wrote and directed Jason Statham’s “Crank” action thrillers. That career progression makes sense.
As for the careers of the on-screen players, well, Brolin’s had a good run lately, and he does try to bring gravity to Jonah, even if you can’t understand a lot of his dialogue because of a speech impediment caused by his facial wound.
You can’t blame Brolin too much for trying to land his own action franchise.
Megan Fox — yes, her again — co-stars as Jonah’s love interest, Lilah, a prostitute with a heart of cardiac muscle and a brain apparently made of the same material.
Her role is skimpier than the necklines of her dresses, and she delivers her lines as robotically in the 1870s as she did in the “Transformers” flicks.
There’s nothing wrong with Malkovich working for a paycheck, only he’s not working very hard. Turnbull is an utterly forgettable villain who seems to have two modes of speaking, boring and really boring.
Aidan Quinn mucks his way through a few sad moments as President Ulysses S. Grant, while Will Arnett adds some comic tension by doing nothing as a stonily straight-faced military aide. You expect Arnett, a master of smarm in “Arrested Development,” “30 Rock” and other roles, to lose it and burst out laughing at any moment.
Wish he had.
“Jonah Hex” could have used some laughs.
* 1/2 ***
Cast: Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Megan Fox, Michael Fassbender, Will Arnett, John Gallagher Jr.
Director: Jimmy Hayward
Running time: 1:22
Rating: PG-13; intense sequences of violence and action, disturbing images and sexual content