A Western with a supernatural streak and a soundtrack by the hipster metal group Mastodon, "Jonah Hex" makes for one muddled pop-cultural stew. And that's not even counting Megan Fox as a prostitute and John Malkovich as an early domestic terrorist.
There's just one ingredient missing: anyone with a clue.
That's disappointing, since the script comes from Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, two talented genre hacks (that's a compliment) who usually inject smart satire into pulp fare like "Crank" and last year's underrated "Gamer." They also usually direct, though in this case they parted with Warner Bros. over "creative differences." The Neveldine & Taylor touch, never exactly light, is sorely missed.
What's left is a jumbled story in which the title character (Josh Brolin), a former Confederate soldier with a rope of scar tissue clenching his jaw, searches for his disfigurer, Quentin Turnbull (Malkovich). While Turnbull builds a nuclear-style doomsday machine, like a Reconstruction-era Dr. No, Hex tracks him by talking to the dead, a trick he learned from some Injuns.
Director Jimmy Hayward ("Horton Hears a Who!") ought to find at least some of this funny, but instead every scene is rock-video serious. But Hayward also seems busy regluing the pieces of a dropped and shattered project. The fine actor Michael Shannon ("Revolutionary Road") gets whittled down to a 20-second cameo; Jeffrey Dean Morgan doesn't even get a credit. The film is padded with flashbacks, and even re-flashbacks, but still falls short of the 90-minute mark.
When the hero and villain finally have their showdown, you may not even wonder why it splits bafflingly into two - with entirely different locations, weapons and endings. "Jonah Hex" is that confusing, and that confused.