A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES | Early in JONAH HEX, a shrug-offable adaptation of DC's cult Western comic from the 1970s, the eponymous hero (Josh Brolin), a renegade Confederate soldier, helplessly looks on as the dastardly villain Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich, sleepwalking) sets fire to his wife and child inside their frontier home. "I want you to watch," Turnbull sneers... before promptly CLOSING THE FRONT DOOR, effectively eliminating the sightline between Hex, who is tied to a stake in the yard, and his family, who are roasting in the foyer. Which begs the question: What is Turnbull talking about? QVC? Hoop Dreams? Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade? Alas, this is the first of much awkward goofiness in a film that seems insanely choppy and incomplete; bounding between action set pieces with wispy bits of information connecting the dots, it's like a movie based on a four-sentence Wikipedia plot synposis of a movie. Troubled production history? You're soaking in it! Crank's Neveldine/Taylor were originally signed to write and direct, but they quit the project after finishing the script, so the reins were passed to Horton Hears a Who!'s Jimmy Hayward; going from Jason Statham devouring cocaine on a sex-club floor to whimsical Dr. Seuss computer 'toons is not exactly a lateral move in terms of creative vision. (OR IS IT?) Revolutionary Road's Michael Shannon is billed sixth but only on camera for several seconds. The closing credits list three editors — never a good sign. Also, unrelated to Jonah Hex being an aborted studio hack-job but weird all the same: One of the executive producers is Matt LeBlanc. Yes, from Friends! I know, right? Fancy meeting you here, Joey Tribbiani!
The basic story is this: Left for dead after the aforementioned nastiness, Hex — now physically scarred and afflicted with "the curse of knowin' the other side" — pursues Turnbull across the post-Civil War South to get revenge, and if that revenge happens in time to thwart Turnbull's attack on the Capitol building during the US centennial, well, all the better. The film lasts a scanty 81 minutes (or, if you prefer, 57% of The Karate Kid), yet it somehow feels overstuffed with extraneous, unexplained junk: an acid-spitting reptilian mutant; a mystical Native American village that suddenly appears out of nowhere; a trusty canine sidekick-cum-spirit-guide; a fight sequence that plays out concurrently with a dream fight sequence... Even Hex's supposedly nifty supernatural powers are tenuously tied into the big picture. (Oooh, he can turn a rotting corpse into the handsome Jeffrey Dean Morgan! Gay gravediggers everywhere are jealous, I'm sure.) At least Megan Fox, as Hex's grotesquely-corseted prostitute girlfriend, serves a double purpose: She's here to get kidnapped by the bad guys and attract that lucrative teen-boy demographic. But discerning hornballs will hopefully note that she's so expressionless and waxy-looking that she might actually be a Megan Fox sex doll — those exist, yes? — brought to life, probably by Native American mysticism. (Seriously, clean off your mantel, girl. You're winning the 2011 Razzie for Worst Actress FOR SURE.) Jonah Hex is a horrible, almost fascinating mess, but at least it runs short and zips by, so there's really not enough time to do lasting damage to your scalp as you scratch your head for the nonsensical duration. C- —Jasper
••• Rating: PG-13. Running time: 81 minutes.