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The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)

by on 2011/12/24

“It’s not me I’m worried about.”

* * *

Originally planned as a November review (when we covered “remembrance” moviesThe Long Kiss Goodnight was bumped for qualifying equally well for our Unconventional December.

Funny thing, that. Seeing it in close proximity to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, I began to notice similarities and progression in the various works of Shane Black. The actor, writer, and occasional director was also responsible for Lethal Weapon.

Gru wondered if he had suffered some trauma at Christmas. Many of his features take place around then, but they’re not necessarily festive, more film noir. I theorized he set his stories at the time to ensure viewership. When this month rolls around, and you’re searching for something different, the one-in-twelve pool is much smaller than eleven-in-twelve.

Furthermore, his pairing with director Renny Harlin must have seemed a can’t-miss proposition. Harlin helmed the Yuletide airport thriller Die Harder back in 1990. But while Goodnight is full of interesting ideas, it never satisfactorily gels.

The plot picks up with Samantha Cain (Beetlejuice’s Geena Davis), a thirty-something woman who awoke, pregnant, in rural Pennsylvania. Suffering from focal retrograde amnesia, she goes on to live the life of a single mother and teacher, with no memory of her former identity.

One night, after a Christmas party, she is hurt in an accident which triggers flashes of flip-flopping personas. She begins to have nightmares and flashbacks, and old muscle memories reveal dangerous skills. In response to her own facility with knives, she repeatedly claims, “Chefs do that!”

Only in Under Siege, Ms. Davis, only in Under Siege.

Working with a low rent private investigator, Mitch Henessey (The Spirit’s Samuel Jackson), she slowly unravels the mystery of her past, called Operation Honeymoon. They alternately chase and are chased across New York, to the Canadian border in Niagara, hoping to find themselves before old enemies find them first.

Now, right off the bat, I will note I don’t dislike this effort overall, however I do have serious issues with at least three parts of it.

First issue: Geena Davis, an actress I really respect. She was okay in The Fly (1986) and Thelma and Louise, even on TV in Knight Rider and Family Ties. Something about her performance here, though, didn’t completely convince me. I bought her as the small town mom, but not in her alternate role. I wanted to see a transition on par with Linda Hamilton in the Terminator series.

Second issue: the script. Overall, I really enjoyed it. I sensed the bits and pieces of noir jabbing their way through the page. It’s even got a pulpy title, but a few little things bothered me. Black seemed to rely on the word “bitch” a lot, as if it were a part of speech, or a form of punctuation. And with Davis’ slightly nasal delivery, even Mitch’s name sounded like Bitch. Also, her character’s duality was marked by a fondness for dick jokes, enough to become tiring. Finally, I was a bit unnerved by the constant jeopardy of children, a gimmicky way to control the audience.

Third issue: the execution. Time and again I admired the writing — aside from the points I’ve described — then lamented it wasn’t directed differently. It struck me that the tale was hard, yet the telling was stylistically soft. Dream sequences were unconvincing and hokey, and reminded me of a laughable episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Night Terrors”. Rear projection, colour screening, and compositing occasionally looked obvious, as did some of the stunt doubles, and the belief-testing laws of physics.

Again, I didn’t hate the experience, I just wish it had been better. Might different casting, rewrites, and more budget made a difference? There’s no way of knowing for sure, but it’s still fun for what it is. I liked it more than Lethal Weapon, and it’s a step in the right direction, ever closer to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Essentially, The Long Kiss Goodnight is an inverted Bourne Identity, shot in Canada over the holidays.

Mind you, sometimes that’s exactly what you want.

* * *

Rated 18A (Canada) / R (United States)

120 minutes

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