The Long Kiss Goodnight

(Renny Harlin, USA, 1996)


I believe there are only two kinds of film reviewers.

There are those who fixate angrily on what they perceive as mistakes or flaws in a movie, such as plot inconsistencies, plausibility problems, dodgy special effects and minor technical gaffes. These reviewers are known the world over as nerds.

And there are other reviewers – I call this bunch the critics – who try to rise above such superficial trivia in order to grasp the soul and energy of a movie, the gamble that it takes by mixing diverse elements in an intriguing way.

I suspect that The Long Kiss Goodnight is a film for critics, not nerds. It is also for anyone who can appreciate an exciting, hilarious, sometimes outrageous piece of action cinema.

Ingeniously devised by writer Shane Black (later the director of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang [2005]) and director Renny Harlin as a vehicle for the superb Geena Davis, it tweaks the usual genre formula by casting a woman in the central role.

It is a big deal when women have identity crises in action movies (such as Jamie Lee Curtis did in Blue Steel [1990], another great film that displeased nerds). Samantha (Davis) leads a cosy, settled life as a schoolteacher with amnesia until, one fateful day, traces of her old life catch up with her, and memories come flooding back.

Samantha was once Charly, a strong, sexy, hard-as-nails professional assassin. And now it seems that everyone, on both sides of the law, is out to eradicate her. Once she recovers her fighting, shooting and knife-throwing skills, Samantha scarcely needs her bumbling, irritating sidekick Mitch – a comic foil role played to the hilt by Samuel L. Jackson.

Harlin (Cliffhanger, 1993) is a fine filmmaker who, like Rowdy Herrington, embraces the fanciful nature of such tall tale plots, and revels in the extravagant style necessary to make them work. Amid all the wild split-second coincidences and hair-raising clinches, however, Black's screenplay cannily plants every set-up that somehow leads to a later, satisfying pay-off.

Those looking for a rousing feminist fantasy may be disappointed by the slightly disapproving, moralistic line on Samantha's behaviour that Mitch consistently dishes out. But, finally, such themes and messages matter little.

This is the busiest, cleverest, kinkiest action film produced in America since Assassins (1995) or Mission: Impossible (1996). And nerds found a lot to complain about in those two movies, didn't they?

MORE Harlin: Exorcist: The Beginning, A Nightmare on Elm St. 4

© Adrian Martin January 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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