The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) – Renny Harlin

The Long Kiss Goodnight should be better than it is. It’s got quite the pedigree. Director Renny Harlin had given us Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, and a solid entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street series with The Dream Master. There’s a score by Alan Silvestri, a script by Shane Black (who is damned reliable in his work, though I can’t tell you what happened with The Predator) and Geena Davis who proves to be a fantastic action star, and the always awesome Samuel L. Jackson.

Were Harlin and Davis still reeling from their critically mauled Cutthroat Island? I don’t know, but consequently, The Long Kiss Goodnight, which plays like Black’s riff on The Bourne Identity, lacks the sleekness and style of Harlin’s earlier efforts.

There’s a clunkiness to the film that makes one wonder how much ended up on the cutting room floor. The editing feels off, and a little jarring, and that’s too bad, because sometimes there are glimmers of a truly fantastic action flick in the burning embers of this film.

Davis plays Samantha Caine, a small town teacher, and mother, who came into being eight years ago. She can’t remember any of her life before that, but when her past comes looking for her, and an accident jostles her past loose inside her head, she recalls that she’s Charlie Baltimore, an assassin in the pay of the government, and now, a faction within it wants to wipe her out permanently, as they fear she’s come back to stop them.

Jackson plays an ex-cop, ex-con, low-rent detective, Mitch, who has been working Samantha’s case, and gets caught up in the chase and the gunfire as the villains, led by Timothy (a smarmy, scene-chewing Craig Bierko) are determined to stop Sam/Charlie before she connects the dots about their terrorist plot, even if it means kidnapping her daughter, Caitlin (Yvonne Zima).

There are solid action beats, snappy dialogue and humour, and a Xmas setting, all trademarks of a Black script, and yet, it never quite exceeds the sum of its parts like it should. Davis is great in the action sequences, and while there are some iffy script moments (the dream sequences stand out) one feels that it should work.

Jackson is awesome, and seems completely in his element, wonderfully funny and vulgar, and, as always a sheer joy to see on the screen, but the film feels like it is constantly stumbling.

I think if they filled out the first quarter to half of the movie with a little more character development, letting us settle into Samantha’s life before things go awry, that may have worked better. Watching it today, it just feels like there are all manner of cuts throughout the film to make it fit a two hour runtime.

It’s a good film that could have been so much better (and it was awesome to see Honest Ed’s at the corner of Bathurst and Bloor back in the day!).

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