ICYMI *Holiday Edition*: The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
It’s the most wonderful time of the year…….to catch up on holiday flicks you may have missed the first time. The history of cinema has given us many “Holiday Classics” like It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story and the recently recognized Die Hard. So I will take the next four weeks to take a look at films that deserve some appreciation, be they potential “Holiday Classics” or just fun Christmas-set films that are a much needed diversion from the norm.
So, let’s start this month with The Long Kiss Goodnight. You can never go wrong with a Shane Black script. First, Mr. Black specializes in witty/wise-ass repartee. Second, almost all of his scripts are set at Christmas. From the original Lethal Weapon to The Last Boy Scout to Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang to Iron Man 3, Mr. Black definitely has an affinity for cinematic yuletide. At the time, the screenplay was sold for a record $4 million. And while it isn’t exactly Robert Towne or William Goldman-eque, it is the very entertaining dialogue that drives this campy, over-the-top spy thriller.
The film stars a very game and surprisingly athletic Geena Davis as an amnesiac named Samantha Caine who is living a blissful suburban existence. As she explains in the opening voice-over, eight years previously she woke up pregnant and with no memory of who she was. Now, she’s a recently engaged school teacher and happily doting mother to Caitlin (Yvonne Zima.) She has hired a low rent PI (Samuel L. Jackson, in usual bad-ass mode) to look into her past with limited success until one night she is tracked down by a vengeful foe. During the ensuing battle, some of her skills return - like the ability to snap a neck on command.
Davis and Jackson hit the road in search of her past and after a shootout at a train station and an escape from a farmhouse we discover that our noble schoolmarm was a government assassin named Charlene Baltimore, a.k.a Charlie. Yes, we have the same knee-slapping reaction as Jackson’s PI but director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger) keeps the action moving and entertainingly staged. The film also features Craig Bierko as Charlie’s equally matched nemesis and a wonderfully deadpan Brian Cox as Charlie’s former handler. When Davis and Jackson are still bewildered after their first brush with danger he states, “Yes, it was very exciting. Tomorrow we’ll go to the zoo.”
The film was a box office disappointment, mostly because no one was ready to buy former Academy Winner Davis as an action hero. These were probably the same people who avoided her previous swashbuckling effort Cutthroat Island, also directed by then husband Renny Harlin and another missed gem. What they missed this time was pure escapist cinema. Harlin has an eye for entertaining action sequences and equipped with a Shane Black script he’s a like a kid in a candy store. Black’s screenplay also includes some ingeniously devised escapes, one which is dependent on Caitlin’s toy baby that can wet itself.
But the film comes back to Davis and Jackson and their wonderfully combative rapport. They banter and bicker in classic Shane Black fashion, with some sexual undertones but not brave enough to go THERE. It would have been nice to see these characters live on in future adventures. But, it’s the Christmas season. Maybe anything is possible.