It was unlikely that any film opening the same day as Toy Story 3 was going to do very well, but Jonah Hex failed even by those low standards. It made just $5.4 million, barely enough for seventh place. It had about the same gross and same per-theater average as Killers -- which opened two weeks ago and which nobody liked in the first place. That's like entering a marathon at the 20-mile mark and still getting beaten by an old lady with a walker.
Adding to the film's financial misery is the fact that it's also pretty lousy. I mean, if the movie were good and for whatever reason didn't find an audience, at least the people involved could look proudly upon their work and hope for a cult following on DVD. The best the people who made Jonah Hex can hope for is that they will be permitted to work in this town again, and that Josh Brolin will not punch them when he sees them.
What went wrong? How did a movie that originally had such potential turn into a debacle? Let's pull back the sizzling scar tissue and examine it.
It was almost exactly three years ago -- July 2007 -- when Warner Bros. announced that the duo of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor would write and direct a movie version of the Jonah Hex comic book. The guys had just made the insane Crank and were now officially hot shiz. A year later, Thomas Jane campaigned for the lead role, going so far as to produce photos of himself in character makeup. Clearly the Confederate-soldier-turned-bounty-hunter had his fans. Eh, but forget you, Thomas Jane, because Neveldine and Taylor (having finished Crank: High Voltage in the meantime) cast Josh Brolin as the gunslinger in October 2008. Less than two months later, Neveldine and Taylor left the production, citing the ever-popular "creative differences" (which, coincidentally, also caused the Civil War). Josh Brolin stayed on, and his tinkering might have had something to do with why Neveldine and Taylor left.
Six weeks later, in early 2009, Warner Bros. had found a new director: Jimmy Hayward, an animator who'd never made a live-action film before, and whose only cartoon feature was Horton Hears a Who. John Malkovich got on board a month later, with Megan Fox joining a month after that.
Fans of the Jonah Hex comic book -- who I'm told most assuredly do exist -- were losing hope fast. First the directors leave, then the new guy comes from a cartoon background, then icky girl-person Megan Fox brings her cooties in? Bleh.
But there was to be further bad news. In December 2009, it came out that the film was going back in for some pretty extensive re-shoots -- and that another director, Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend), was to be heavily involved as a "consultant." What's more, these re-shoots required the casting of entirely new characters, including Hex's dead wife, son, and best friend, and U.S. president Andrew Johnson.
If you've seen the film, you know what a mess it is. Several of those re-shoot elements play a substantial part in the story, making you wonder what the movie was like before they were added. Andrew Johnson was turned into Ulysses S. Grant. Michael Shannon, who told Cinematical he'd spent "a couple days" shooting what amounted to a "cameo," is only onscreen for a few seconds. (Or so I'm told. I didn't notice him at all.) The supernatural parts of Hex's story get a fair amount of screen time but don't contribute much to the plot. The dark comic book clearly calls for an R-rated treatment, but the film has been frantically cut to get a PG-13. Will Arnett is for some reason cast in a largely serious role as an Army lieutenant. Was the part supposed to be funnier at one point, or did someone really make the mistake of casting Will Arnett in a non-comic role?
Another tell-tale sign of trouble is that there are three editors credited on the movie. Now, unlike writers (and sometimes directors), film editors seldom work in teams. Almost any time you see more than one editor in the credits, it means one of them came in after the other one to take another pass at the material, either because the first one did a bad job, or because the studio is having second thoughts and the first editor has already moved on to other work. To have three editors is exceedingly rare, and it suggests the turmoil involved in salvaging this thing. The finished product is only 80 minutes long -- awfully short for something that was three years and four directors in the making.