I was looking through my notebook tonight and I found a review of THE LONG KISS GOOD NIGHT that I apparently never posted. It’s kind of like finding a dime under the couch.
It was actually Christmas time when I watched it. I had forgotten that’s when it took place, although I should’ve guessed, because it’s written by Shane Black. You write what you know, and the only thing Shane Black knows is what wiseass cops say together during the yuletide season. So I meant to post it to celebrate Christmas, but I guess instead we’ll post it to celebrate the recent news that Black is supposed to direct another movie (DOC SAVAGE).
This mismatched buddy teamup of Black and Renny Harlin didn’t make that much of an impression whenever I saw it before, but it’s pretty good, mainly because of Black’s usual smartass dialogue. It’s got a tone I like, an action movie that’s funny but serious. I guess that’s what you should expect from the godfather of the ’80s and ’90s style of action comedy. (Black, not Harlin. I like DIE HARD better, but you gotta admit LETHAL WEAPON was hugely influential too.)
Geena Davis plays Samantha Kane, a goodie-goodie school teacher and mother in a small, idyllic town who suddenly learns that she used to be Charlie Baltimore, gruff-talking, chain-smoking, knife-throwing super spy Cold Warrior. I mean one second she’s smiling and waving in the Christmas parade, taking advantage of her reputation as the hot teacher, next thing you know covert intelligence agencies are trying to murder her. Not cool. The nefarious CIA killers who thought she was dead come after her to finish the job, so she gets mixed up in this plan for a staged terrorist attack (creepily tied in with the first bombing of the World Trade Center). Plus she’s experiencing a split personality problem, even having threatening conversations with her other self in the mirror. So she and a low rent private eye (Samuel L. Jackson) go on a mission to uncover her past and straighten things out (i.e. kill the bad guys).
Davis isn’t always convincing with her tough talk, but it mostly works, and she’s great in the sensitive side of the role. Her bond with her daughter is very sweet, and there’s also a subplot about Jackson struggling to connect with his kid after a divorce, just like MONSTER SQUAD.
When this came out it probly seemed like kind of a novelty that a woman was kicking so much ass, but looking at it now the unusual thing is how smart and funny she gets to be. In a movie where everybody has a smartass response to everybody else’s smartass response, she gets the best ones, and that’s rare for a woman. Even before she’s Charlie Baltimore she’s mentally and comedically superior to those around her.
The only jokes I thought didn’t work were a couple really out of the blue ones pushing the housewife angle, like when she’s in a life or death situation and asks her daughter “Should we get a puppy?” for no reason. That was a little forced.
And some of the timing is a little off, but oh well. Like something’s a little crooked when a bad guy brings a hostage a teddy bear and self-righteously says “I am not a monster!” and then “Fuck you!” when the other guy’s not impressed. But it’s a funny enough concept that it works. Yeah buddy, you gave her a teddy bear, you are one of the all time humanitarians in my opinion, not just in the kidnapping community but in general.
The action’s pretty good too. My favorite touch is when Jackson’s being chased in a car near Samantha’s house so she grabs a pair of ice skates and crosses a frozen lake to catch up with them. Nice merging of her two personalities.
Davis and Jackson are both good and have chemistry. Craig Bierko makes a good unconventional villain. My only complaint is that as it gets to the big action climax it’s not good enough to really pull you all the way into action mode, and I was a little more interested in getting back to the characters. But it gets really emotional when the daughter is trying to revive her mom. I don’t know if the movie really earned it or if it’s just because the little girl is bawling her eyes out, but something really got me about hearing a little girl scream “Life is pain – you just get used to it!”
I was surprised how often it reminded me of KILL BILL. They’re two totally different movies, but they have some weird parallels. They’re both about cartoonishly skilled female assassins who quit the life when they got pregnant, and now have to fight their old employer (also former flame) before they can live normal settled down lives. Weirdly, the almost end of LONG KISS even has Davis driving a convertible with the top down, same as the end credits of KILL BILL 2. But that’s obviously a coincidence. Everybody knows KILL BILL was based on HARD TO KILL.
I liked this one. And to all a good night.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.