Friday, June 18, 2010

Let's All Go to the Lobby!

Jonah Hex
With the popularity and box office successes of comic book genre films, there is a cavernous divide between the good films (The Dark Knight, X2, Iron Man) and the terrible films (Steel, Catwoman, Ghost Rider). Joining the latter list of films is "Jonah Hex."

The continued success of mainstream comic book titles like Batman and Spider-Man allows for lesser known properties to be acquired by studios and fast-tracked into production. Occasionally, small press or alt-comic titles will transition well and become crossover successes (Ghost World, Wanted, American Splendor). With a major studio's propensity to snatch up the rights to any title it views to have big returns, some films are rushed into development, forced into production, and crafted with disregard for crucial elements (plot, editing, actors). Because of this, "Jonah Hex" fails on several fronts and the end product is wholly dissatisfying.

There isn't much to be said about this movie that isn't disparaging. Josh Brolin plays Hex and his makeup looks good. I don't know what John Malkovich is trying to convey through his performance (grumble, grumble, kill 'em!), and Megan Fox can't act to save her thumbs. What Michael Shannon, Will Arnett, and Aidan Quinn were thinking of when they signed onto this film is beyond me.

The plot is simple enough: a confederate solider, Turnbull (Malkovich), wants to exact revenge on the US during centennial celebrations. He steals a doomsday-type weapon and plans to lay waste to the Capitol. The only person who can stop him is Hex because Hex killed Turnbull's son, who in turn murdered Hex's family and scarred his face.

The story forgoes much of Hex's comic-inspired origin; the screenwriters (of Crank fame) opt instead to create their own. This includes granting Hex some zombie conversation powers. In addition, the script is filled with such inane dialogue, contrived plot devices, and barely there essence it makes a SyFy film strong in comparison. At a crisp 81 minutes, there's little time for exposition, just choppy action sequence after surreal metaphor-ish fight scene between Turnbull and Hex after washed-out close-up of Fox. Skip it.

Jesse Eisenberg continues his ascent to the top of quality young actors with a tender portrayal of a Hasidic Jew in New York during the late 90s. Eisenberg plays Sam Gold, a young man who lives with his parents, works at his father's shop and hopes to marry soon and strike out on his own.

When things don't go his way, he falls in with his neighbor's older brother who has been moving ecstasy pills to New York from Europe. Sam quickly ingratiates himself into the drug cartel, helping with numbers and making deals happen, recruiting new kids into the ring, and wearing new sneakers.

The film follows the standard trek of a drug film: new kid in the business, makes an impression, then reaches a point of no return. In spite of the Jewish slant, the film doesn't breach any new ground. Eisenberg delivers a fine performance, but seems to be riding his shtick as far is it can take him. "Holy Rollers" is an interesting film, but not an exciting one. Rent it.

Michael Douglas delivers a stand-out performance as a charming, slick horn dog who can't get his act together or keep his hands to himself. Douglas plays a former car salesman who tried to cheat the books, got busted, developed a heart condition and is now trying to get his life back in order. He plays every angle, takes everyone for granted, and looks to satisfy his most basic needs.

In some regards, this character seems like a continuation of, or parallel to, Gordon Gekko from Wall Street. No expense is too big, no woman unattainable, no matter what the cost. He scorns his daughter, his grandson, and his friends because he looks out for himself and he seems very content with that. There are moments during the film where that facade fades, his guard is let down, and there's a hint of redemption, but Douglas shrugs it off and presses on, unfazed.

The ensemble cast is deep and the performances are strong, though they pale in comparison to Douglas'. Sure, it boils down to pretty people with problems, but Douglas plays the part with such charisma that he's hard to resist and even harder to root against. While the end of the film is ambiguous, I found it tough not to root for Douglas in hopes that he got his act together. See it.

1 comment:

Budd said...

thanks for the warning on Hex.