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The Long Kiss Goodnight

The Long Kiss Goodnight, the final Renny Harlin-Geena Davis collaboration, is about a happy, middle-class single mother who happens to be an amnesiac and wakes up one day to the truth about her past: she is a professional assassin for the CIA. And while the critical reception to this film upon release was mostly negative, it's possible that super-serious reviewers, despite the cult around Sigourney Weaver and Alien, weren't ready for a true action femmeLKG, which is technically a much better movie than that quick-but-fun knock-off Barb Wire (released around the same time), received reviews that virtually equated them. Yet The Long Kiss Goodnight is a good movie with a clever story from screenwriter Shane Black, and it has some fabulous stunts. LKG advocates self-reliance, solitude, and immediate justice, making it fundamentally right-wing in nature (but then that is the nature of the action genre on the whole). The film is also much better than most of the loud, noisy, futile summer action films you're likely to endure.The story has the fast-paced complexity we have come to expect from "siege" movies. Davis is Samantha Caine, a woman who has hired many detectives to unearth her past. Only Samuel L. Jackson, a cheap hustler of a private dick, stumbles near the truth. But after a car accident, Samantha is reaching awareness anyway, accelerated when a mad killer from her past, after seeing her on television, hunts her down. When Samantha's memory fully returns, Caine realizes that she is CIA assassin Charly Baltimore, a woman with little feeling for others beyond immediate sexual gratification and vengeance. She's the femme Nikita, 15 years later. But, as Jackson reminds her, the Caine persona had to come from somewhere within her, and throughout the last half of the movie, as the duo try to thwart the elaborate conspiracy of some renegade CIA ops, Caine begins to merge with her Abel, blending into a whole, fully realized person.

*          *          *

The cinematic success of The Long Kiss Goodnight is due to two things — the vitality of the star and the expertise of the director. Geena Davis handles both halves of her performance — first as a nurturing schoolmarm, second as a cold, cynical killer — with aplomb. Her director (and then-husband) Harlin realizes that her physical dimensions — that long body, that magnificent jaw line, those pouty lips, the smile that unfolds her face like a child's toy — are "trans-role," they fit both of her characters. When her amnesia starts to crumble, Davis goes from a classic small-town girl-next-door in flowing hair, garbed in sensible coat and tiny Timex, to a Brigitte Nielsen clone in bleached blond hair, leather jacket, man's Seiko, and a bolt-action sniper's rifle. A lengthy torture scene allows us to revel in the magnificence of her shoulders and armpits, and like Helen Hunt in Twister, Davis looks smashing in a man's sleeveless undershirt. But Davis's success is half due to the vigorous competence of Harlin. Media attention focused on this film as the duo's bid for redemption after their previous Cutthroat Island. There are several things that need to be said about this. First, the media love comeback stories. Supposedly both Harlin and Davis were in need of hits, and so their future was at stake with this film, which makes a good story but doesn't reflect the way the movie industry really works. Anyway, most people just want to see good movies, and don't care about the rep-making-and-breaking tendencies of reporters and reviewers. Second, taking the long view, it's possible that the brilliance of LKG would not even have been possible without the trial run of Cutthroat Island. Finally, it appears that paradoxically the Finnish Harlin is successful only when he is making snowbound movies such as Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, and this one. If there is a flaw in the film, it's that LKG is not quite as well edited as it could be. Take for example a scene in which Samuel Jackson, tied to a chair, is blown out of a building. What he does when he lands is carefully set up by the script, yet muddied by unclear under-editing. But this is a minor flaw in an otherwise near-perfect diamond. The public didn't seem to agree, however. The film, released in October of 1996, cost $65 million to make but earned only $33 million in the United States. The DVD version came out in April of 1997, and as an early DVD is not particularly supplements-laden. It's a double-sided dual layered disc (DS-DL) with an anamorphic widescreen transfer (2.35:1) on one side and full-frame pan-and-scan on the other. However, the disc comes in DD 5.1 (and French Dolby 2.0 Surround), with English, French, and Spanish subtitles. There's also the inevitable trailer, and cast and credit documentation. As a footnote, the Region 2 DVD had a six-minute "making of" featurette not available here. We're hoping that The Long Kiss Goodnight will be re-released at some point in the future with multiple supplements and a commentary track. Keep-case.
—D.K. Holm



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