'Jonah Hex' has lots of action, not much interest

You know things are bad when the president of the United States warns that "the very future of our nation" rests on the shoulders of a soul-ravaged bounty hunter with a hole in the side of his face.

But that's what things have come to in Jonah Hex, a mercifully fleet and lamentably uninteresting adaptation of the DC Comic about a war-weary Confederate soldier whose brush with death has left him twisted and a tad supernatural. He communes with crows. He can spew black vapor from his mouth. He can grab hold of a corpse and bring it back to life.

And he can play footsy with Megan Fox.

How Ulysses S. Grant, cloistered in his Oval Office in the years after the Civil War, heard about this Hex guy is anybody's guess. But when an evil madman hijacks a military train carrying the 19th-century equivalent of an H-bomb, Grant dispatches his top soldiers to hunt Hex down and recruit him to save the world.

Luckily they find him, playing footsy with Megan Fox.

Josh Brolin, wielding twin Gatling guns and mumbling impenetrably, stars in the title role. Wearing a withering scowl, a dusty wardrobe, and a mix of prosthetics and CGI that makes his right cheek look like gristle that wild dogs have got at, Hex busies himself riding around the land capturing wanted men. When a bunch of sheriffs refuse to pony up the reward money - and worse yet, try to kill him for his efforts - he whips out the Gatlings and mows 'em down. And then Hex blows up half the town, for good measure.

After some voice-overs (Hex gets to narrate his own tale) and an animated sequence that tries to replicate the panel art of the comics, it's off to see Lilah. She's a pistol-packin' prostitute, subtly portrayed by Fox with a lot of corset and garter action, and, of course, a sexy sneer. Somehow, when it's time to head to the banks of the Potomac to save the president (Aidan Quinn) and the good folk who have come out for the Fourth of July celebrations, Lilah is right there alongside Hex, shootin' the bad guys with the orange balls.

Oh, right, the orange balls: Like the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes smasheroo, Jonah Hex mixes steampunk weaponry and design elements in there with the more historically accurate period accoutrements. The apocalyptic armaments that vengeful, vicious Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich, looking like a Woodstock rocker 40 years on) has got his demonic mitts on consist of projectile orbs glowing with a fiery light. When they blow up, they really blow up.

Jonah Hex - with a director's credit to Jimmy Hayward, whose sole other feature is the animated Dr. Seuss adaptation Horton Hears a Who! - has reportedly been plagued by problems from its initial conception, through production, and in post. The mishmash of visual styles (from Old West to Reconstruction South, from cartoon to cowboy realism) attests to this.

But, hey, the world needs a hero, and if he shows up in a long coat and a tattered Stetson, scarred and snarly, arm in arm with Megan Fox, who knows . . . maybe they can help out another president and plug that hole in the Gulf of Mexico, too.

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/

Jonah Hex

Directed by Jimmy Hayward. With Josh Brolin, John Malkovich. Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Parent's guide: Unrated ().