Emancipation Day and The Income Tax Due Date bracketed this past weekend, making it the right time to rent a ghost story/steampunk Dirty South Risin' hybrid comic book adaptation, on Blu-ray, and play it loud... American proud-like. My newest hero Josh Brolin stars, in scarry face and surly voice, as JONAH HEX (2010), a Confederate officer left to die by an evil rebel general (John Malkovich). Medicine men show up and bring him back to life but he stays half in the other world, and that's what gives the film its edge. Hex can talk to the dead, and the dead are pissed... and in this graveyard of a world, always handy.
Brolin's manly gravitas and deadpan humor bumps any film up a star so I'm cool with the fact I couldn't see what was going on in any of the night action scenes. I was pleased by the overall lack of rape or inordinate torturing (aside from the macho kind which is okay), which makes it all relatively suitable for children and sensitive feminists, of which I'm both. Rather than kill Hex and Fox whenever he gets the chance, evil supervillain Malkovich just chains them up like those self-defeating Jokers and Penguins who used to work the foil route for Batman and Robin, allowing them to keep their utility belts and providing oodles of opps for easy escape and vows to return same Hex time, same Hex channel. Though based on the low rate of returns, ah reckon Hex won't be back.
But I read the DC Jonah Hex comics as a kid and they were always entertaining if not great. They endeavored to combine old west stuff (like the original horseback Ghost Rider on Marvel) with DC's safe but diverting horror ala House of Mystery / House of Secrets. That was all well and good but his horrid scar, which has left a pointless strand of flesh connecting his lips, made me think of too many unsavory school cafeteria incidents. THE WILD WILD WEST is a clearer ancestor of HEX's new look in the film version, which doesn't seem to make sense, but then again steampunk is as steampunk does and idiot producers love to enforce bad copycat decisions then second guess them and triple guess and then blame the director for the resulting incoherent jumbled mess. In the end, what counts is that Fox and Brolin play it as deadpan straight as Adam West and Burt Ward before them, and villain Malkovich hams it up old-school, which is how it should be. Best part, the soundtrack isn't annoying or cliche'd John Williams recyclables. It was probably longer at one point, and got edited down like it was a Cantonese Kung Fu film after a trip through the Miramax miracle dub-and-cut threshing machine. Maybe there will be a director's cut? I'd buy it if it went up to 111 minutes!
In the end, though, what makes HEX almost worthwhile are the exposed layers of racist red state confusion in having a hero be a ghostly avenger from the Confederate army. In order to prove he's not racist he buys all his steampunk ordinance from an African American 'Q'-type, who makes sure we know--via expository dialogue-- Hex was never big on the whole slavery thing even though he wore the grays. He just fought the North because they were trying to tell him what to do... and Hex doesn't like being told what to do... unlike the rubes who follow the feudal doctrines of the quick buck that made JONAH trimmed to the point of near-incoherence, or the people enthralled by Fox News, who basically let an old Australian billionaire tell them what Americans think. Emancipation redaction operation alpha, engage! They hate socialism until they need a subsidy or a national highway, then just watch them go gimme gimme. That's America, buddy! Now you pay! You pay now! April 15 come. Gimme!
Seeing the beholden mess our country's in, it may be hard not to root for the evil Malkovich rather than Brolin's semi-heroic Hex and the movie doesn't care if your red or blue or gray. Character-wise, Hex is maybe a bit too much like the Robert Ryan character in THE WILD BUNCH or Coburn in SAM GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID, hunting down the anti-corruption 'Tea Party'-style rebels on behalf of evil congressmen, then the wandering soldier of adventure in the comics. And like those Peckinpah classics, the villains are always cooler than the good, even if the good are damn cool, too. After all, Col. Malkovich doesn't rape people, and he's into cool explosions and fighting the powa. Maybe he's right, and people who vote against their own best interests like hypnotized lemmings are the fatal poison of democracy. In fact, no maybe about it.
Then again, maybe we're all a little bit Jonah Hex too; we still like to keep one foot in Hell just so the other seems, by association, heaven-soled. Sometimes talking to the dead and watching TV are really one and the same and though JONAH HEX bombed with critics and audiences, flaws and all it's aces with me, or at least jacks. I hope Hex returns in either an unrated extended cut or in a sequel some day and maybe in that, as in so many other things, I ride alone... but at least I'm not a slave... except to whiskey... and Megan... and mortality... and taxes, and being powerless to stop as groupthink second-guessing ruins possibly good movies... and my own helpless rage against the ceaselessly gushing flood tide of base pasteurized moronic idiocracy that stifles our land's true grit. So go git 'em, Hex. They done you wrong, but there's no such thing as a final cut, or permanent death.