Benjamin has been reviewing films online since 2004 and has seen way more action movies than he should probably admit to!
What's the Big Deal?
The Long Kiss Goodnight is an action spy thriller film released in 1996 and was directed and co-produced by Renny Harlin. Written by Shane Black, the film follows an amnesiac woman pursued by assassins as she tries to discover the secrets of her past with the help of a private detective. The film stars Geena Davis, Samuel L Jackson, Brian Cox, David Morse, Patrick Malahide and Craig Bierko. The film suffered from a muddled advertising campaign and possibly a more hostile reception from critics due to the previous collaboration between Harlin and Davis, the historically disastrous Cutthroat Island, which was only released 10 months earlier. However, critics were much more impressed with this film, but audiences failed to materialise as the film earned a disappointing $89.5 million worldwide, losing money for New Line Cinema. However, the film has since gone on to earn a cult following and plans for a possible sequel have been stuck in development hell for a number of years.
What's It About?
Eight years after being washed ashore on a beach in New Jersey, Samantha Caine has made something of a life for herself. She lives in a small town in Pennsylvania with her boyfriend Hal and her daughter Caitlin while working as a schoolteacher. But her missing past has haunted her ever since and she has hired a number of investigators to help her uncover the truth - with almost no success. After she hires the somewhat hagged Mitch Henessey, Samantha is involved in a car crash which leaves her with a concussion.
Once she recovers in hospital, Samantha discovers an extraordinary level of ability with a knife while cooking. Although she cannot explain why she is an expert with knives, she soon discovers that she is also extremely competent in hand-to-hand combat after she kills a home invader one night. Worried that she poses a risk to her family, Samantha meets up with Mitch and leaves them behind. Mitch, meanwhile, has possession of a briefcase which may hold vital clues to Samantha's dark past.
Samantha Caine / Charlene Elizabeth Baltimore
Samuel L Jackson
CIA Assistant Director Leland Perkins
Dr Nathan Waldman
Release Date (UK)
29th November, 1996
15 (2008 re-rating)
Action, Crime, Thriller
What's to Like?
Before The Matrix came along and digitised future action films, films like The Long Kiss Goodnight relied on pyrotechnics and good old fashioned stunt work. But crucially, this works in its favour and this film really hits the mark as an action film. It's loud, ambitious and over-the-top - think along the lines of Die Hard With A Vengeance and you're not far off the spectacle seen here. It's perhaps surprising to see such carnage in a film with Geena Davis as the lead but she acquits herself very well, playing two different roles in a sense as more of her past becomes clearer to her. It's unfortunate that the film's narrative closely matches that of the much more popular (and better) film The Bourne Identity but there are plenty of twists and turns involved as well as despicable baddies.
The film also has the dual fortune of having a charismatic co-lead in Jackson and a script from Black who likes to throw in plenty of pop culture references and zinging dialogue. The comedic banter between Jackson and Davis is first-class, which is something I always enjoy about Black's screenplays (one of the reasons why I loved his directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) and makes this film feel more enjoyable than if it was played as a straight thriller. It's the unexpected florishes that make this film such an enjoyable blast from the past - it's not big, clever or overloaded with budget-breaking special effects and CG but this is one throwback that knows how to entertain. In fact, I wouldn't mind watching it all over again.
- Both Samuel L Jackson and Renny Harlin have stated publicly that this is their favourite film out of all the movies they have made.
- One of the trademarks of a Shane Black script is that the action often takes place during the Christmas holidays like Lethal Weapon, Iron Man 3, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and this movie.
- Davis was married at the time to director Renny Harlin although they would later divorce in 1998. They actually prepared for the water torture scene in the bathroom of their house to see how long she could hold her breath for.
- Sam Caine is an anagram of 'amnesiac'.
What's Not to Like?
The problem is, the film's very old-school nature dates the film quite badly. These days, action films like this are packed full of shoot-outs, fisticuffs and death-defying stunt work from the off and rarely let up. Think of something like Crank which starts at 100 miles per hour and barely takes it foot off the gas. The Long Kiss Goodnight sacrifices some of the explosions for things like a more engaging plot and witty dialogue, which is a good thing in my opinion but adrenaline junkies may find the film a little slow. And thanks to the aforementioned The Bourne Identity, the film is now much more predictable - in fact, it almost feels cliche but frankly, that's part of Black's style. You either like it or you don't.
Looking back, it's unfortunate that Davis and Jackson are so dominant in the lead because nobody really stands out in the supporting cast. You never really trust anyone so when the inevitable double-cross happens, you're not that surprised. The film doesn't do a great job of disguising its villain anyway, even if we haven't all been conditioned to suspect every recognisable face on screen. Instead of subverting the genre tropes it plays with, the film is too happy to inhabit that same territory and ends up feeling like a collection of cast-off ideas from other projects. Black's best work plays tricks with audience expectations - Iron Man 3, for example, was less of a bombastic Marvel film and a more subtle, introspective entry for the series albeit one that didn't please everybody (I was in favour, for the record). The Long Kiss Goodnight might be an explosive roller coaster ride that is very enjoyable but it feels too similar to other films which, given Black's success on other projects, is a little disappointing.
Should I Watch It?
The Long Kiss Goodnight might not be what you'd call 'cutting edge' but it is a whole load of fun, fuelled by a smart script and quality casting at the top of the credits. It also proves that action films like this don't have to rely on green-screen effects, CG explosions and computer graphics trying to trick us - this is a cracking action film in a traditional sense and for fans of such, it remains a great watch and a genuine hidden gem. It certainly redeems Harlin and Davis for Cutthroat Island, at any rate...
Great For: action fans of any type, restoring reputations, female representation in action movies
Not So Great For: New Line Cinema, anyone who has already seen The Bourne Identity, shady CIA-types
What Else Should I Watch?
Harlin is no stranger to action movies as he seems to only ever direct them alongside occasional horror flicks. From his breakout effort Die Hard 2 to the under-rated Cliffhanger and goofy-as-balls shark thriller Deep Blue Sea, Harlin's films rarely fail to grab attention - for good or for bad. For his part, Black has an enviable track record of success with his screenplays which have made him one of the most sought-after writers in Hollywood. Since smashing onto the scene in 1986 with Lethal Weapon, his body of work includes The Last Boy Scout and more recently The Nice Guys which Black also diected. He also wrote and directed the latest Predator movie, The Predator, which not only became the highest earning entry in the series so far (at the time of writing) but also harks back to his appearance in the first film.
But arguably the only film series you need to concern yourself with if you're dealing with amnesiac spies is the highly regarded Jason Bourne franchise. It may have become a bloated parody of what it originally was but the first three films in the series - The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum - are fantastic films that engage viewers with its stylish blend of updated narrative, gripping action sequences and Matt Damon proving his tough-guy credentials as a spy struggling to come to terms with his past and his old employers. My favourite of the three is the first which felt fresh when it was released back in 2002 but still maintained a Cold War vibe thanks to its European setting and Doug Liman's tight, small-scale direction. It's so good that it continues to influence the Bond franchise nearly twenty years later.
© 2021 Benjamin Cox