Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.
Shane Black’s screenplays have a number of identifying factors. Foul-mouthed banter. A predilection towards expensive mayhem and gruesome violence. Themes of failure, guilt, and depression. And Christmas.
That last one sure seems like an outlier, but Black insists that it’s the holly jolly season that ties it all together. See, Black’s scripts often go to extremely dark places in terms of plot (the movie we’re discussing this week involves a shadowy government agency trying to plan a false flag terror attack on American soil) and emotion (never forget that Mel Gibson’s character Riggs in Lethal Weapon, Black’s career-making script, isn’t just a wild card: He’s outright suicidal). The festive warm-and-fuzzies engendered by the Christmas season are the spoonful of sugar that make sure the blood-soaked madness goes down smooth.
Directed by Renny Harlin, The Long Kiss Goodnight may not be the darkest of Black’s screenplays, but it might just be the most mad. Geena Davis (in the same calendar year as Cutthroat Island) stars as Samantha, an amnesiac with no knowledge of her life prior to the morning she woke up on a beach bruised, battered, and two months pregnant. Eight years, Samantha has forged a quiet, happy life for herself and her daughter, even as she still employs private detectives to dig into her non-existent past.
A series of coincidences and chance disasters rips off the Band-Aid that’s been holding her fractured mind together. A freak car accident causes a head injury, triggering a rash of previously unknown skills and memories at the same time that one of the sleazier PIs that Samantha hired (this one played by none other than Samuel L. Jackson) stumbles onto some major clues to her former life.
It’s not long before various goons start showing up at Sam’s house looking for payback, and Sam stuns everyone, including herself, by being shockingly capable at dishing out death to anyone who threatens her. It all builds to a literally explosive finale.
The Long Kiss Goodnight was met with something of a shrug. Davis’ star had been tarnished by Cutthroat, and this brand of action was on its way out. Black would essentially retire from studio filmmaking for a decade after this, only returning when he was able to also serve as director of his own material. Renny Harlin went on to direct films about sexy teenage boys who are witches.
Next Week’s Pick
What better way to celebrate the season than with music! Friends! Zombies!
Join us as we sing along with Anna and the Apocalypse, the High School Musical meets Night of the Living Dead mash-up that absolutely no one asked for but that a lot of people enjoy anyway!
Anna and the Apocalypse is available to stream on Hulu+ and Amazon Prime!
Would you like to be a guest in the next’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at)cinapse.co anytime before midnight on Thursday, 12/19!
The Long Kiss Goodnight is Renny Harlin’s best film, and that’s got to count for something, right? That said, it’s your classic Shane Black “set at Christmastime but not really about Christmas” twisty-turny action flick. Geena Davis is great in what amounts to a dual role, and Samuel L. Jackson is a lot of fun as a shady private investigator who is definitely in over his head. Plus Craig Bierko’s intense eyes are SUPER CREEPY. The premise isn’t exactly new — The Bourne Identity was published in 1980 & first filmed in ’88 — but I like the added twist of the protagonist struggling to come to terms with the life she built while suffering from amnesia. Plus it’s got fantastic production values — including a score by Alan Silvestri and cinematography by Guillermo Navarro. Oh, and did I mention the third act is ABSURD? Sure, The Long Kiss Goodnight is a little dated — but in this time of cinematic franchise fatigue it’s nice to revisit this example of Peak ‘90s Action (and perhaps wonder what might have been, if only the proposed sequel The Kiss After Lightning had been greenlit). (@T_Lawson)
With a high concept for an action movie, like The Long Kiss Goodnight’s amnesia and dual personas story, the use of visuals can do a lot to get the audience in the headspace of the characters. The visuals that help most in this movie are the ones that tie directly into Shane Black’s favorite recurring motif, Christmas. Something I somehow never noticed until this movie made me realize it, a lot of symbols for the holiday are tied up in domesticity. Establishing the life the Samantha-side of our main character has through a Christmas party at her house makes solid storytelling shorthand for what she managed to build for herself in the eight years since she woke up with no memories. As the Charly-side emerges, the absence of that cheerful decor in settings like the barn or the hotel room begin to stand out. All culminating in the climax where the maternal and assassin aspects of her start to converge, so does that motif, exemplified in the final showdown taking place on a US-Canada border bridge with a giant Christmas lights display.
Never let it be said Black includes the Most Wonderful Time of the Year in his scripts without purpose. (@WC_Wit)
Brendan Agnew (The Norman Nerd):
This movie has one of the biggest explosions in cinematic history, and it’s apparently not for any other reason than simply to have one of the biggest explosions in cinematic history, and I feel like that’s a good summation of what Renny Harlin brings to the table as a director. Which is to say that he doesn’t often seem to know what he’s doing, but he’s always doing it so hard that — when he gets it right by accident — he threatens to make a good movie regardless.
That seems to be what happened with The Long Kiss Goodnight. A flip-the-script concept for legendary action screenwriter Shane Black, TLKG follows an amnesiac school teacher who learned she used to be a government assassin and teams with Samuel L. Jackson because (and I cannot stress this enough) if you can get Samuel L. Jackson to be in your movie, you put him the hell in your movie, especially if he’s an immoral P.I. chasing down a conspiracy.
Now, this concept treads even further into pulp zaniness than Black’s previous work, and there’s an inherent clumsiness of a dude screenwriter trying to write a “badass lady hero” after running up a bit short of quality female characters of any sort in his previous work. But Geena Davis absolutely goes for it, Jackson is a natural for all this, and this film features some of the better nuts-and-bolts story payoff work Black has done this side of The Nice Guys. That, and the way the script makes for sharp corners that Harlin’s direction sharpens rather than smooths out, make for an unforgettable Christmas viewing experience, if nothing else.
Also, that explosion genuinely is really fucking cool. (@BLCAgnew)
Everything is in place to make The Long Kiss Goodnight a loopy classic and a high-point of ‘90s action cinema. Shane Black’s absurd script is jam-packed with his typical banter and inventive action beats, plus the caustic heart that runs through so many of his films. You have Samuel L. Jackson in his absolute prime, Geena Davis flexing her movie star muscles (and also her actual muscles, good lord was that lady in shape) and a murderer’s row of supporting character actors, led by the great Brian Cox, to a flesh out a pure pulp yarn. Now all they needed was a good director.
The Long Kiss Goodnight probably is Renny Harlin’s best work as a director, but that’s like comparing vomit piles to determine which one felt best coming up. Lines that I’m sure killed on the page just lay there, and action beats that should play astonishingly just sort of happen and leave no impression. The movie looks gorgeous (thanks Guillermo Navarro!), but it never springs to life the way Black’s directorial efforts (or Lethal Weapon) do. The Long Kiss Goodnight still gets across the finish line as a good movie, but you can tell that there’s a truly great one riiiiiiiiiiight there, if only the best elements could have coalesced properly. (@TheTrueBrendanF)
There’s a certain scene in The Long Kiss Goodnight in which a grenade explodes in a hallway and the protagonists run down the entire length of the hall and dive out the second story window, narrowly escaping a massive, fiery explosion that consume the entire top half of the building.
I’ve seen the film exactly once before, and I didn’t remember anything after that scene because I was so put off by that ludicrous grenade. This time I made it a point to accept that silliness and try to actually enjoy the rest of the movie, and… I did! Both Davis and Jackson are doing great work here, not to mention a handful of reliable character actors like Brian Cox, David Morse, and Patrick Malahide.
I’m actually a big fan of Renny Harlin’s 90s gigantic-action spectacles (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, Deep Blue Sea) so it’s kind of weird that this one rubbed me the wrong way originally. What can I say, I’m Bourne again. (@Austin Vashaw)
Next week’s pick: Anna and the Apocalypse