Skip to main content

Yes, it was very exciting. Tomorrow, we go to the zoo.


The Long Kiss Goodnight
(1996)

(SPOILERS) Much as I had been a fan of Shane Black’s writing, and most particularly Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight left me curiously unmoved at first encounter. All the pieces were there, but it never quite came together, never fused into that perfection of crazed narrative excess and dyspeptic characterisation his best pictures do. The main problem, it seemed, was Renny Harlin, director of the worst Die Hard movie until John Moore got the gig. Harlin can put a muscular action sequence together, but not like a John McTiernan, not so it actually becomes exciting (the most important part). And he doesn’t seem to understand how to connect the constituent parts of a movie into something that works as a complete movie, that has drive and momentum. Black said of the film, “I don’t think Long Kiss Goodnight is a bad movie”, but revisiting it, I’d say it definitely isn’t a good one.


Mitch: We jumped out of a building!
Nathan: Yes, it was very exciting. Tomorrow, we go to the zoo.

In some respects, Black was ahead of the curve with his premise, in others lagging just behind it. It would be six years before another amnesiac spy was unleashed on cinemagoers, with decidedly more successful results. But Jason Bourne went a fairly traditional route. Black had his, Samantha Caine/Charly Balitmore (Geena Davis), suffering focal retrograde amnesia, immersed in an idyll of domestic bliss, with an indistinct boyfriend (Tom Amandes) and adorable daughter (Yvonne Zima). In which respect, Black nurses a not dissimilar polarising setting to James Cameron’s True Lies, from the previous year, where Arnie has kept his double life secret from meek missus Jamie Lee Curtis and daughter Eliza Dushku.


There’s great potential here, not least for laughs, but they aren’t really exploited. Or rather, Harlin doesn’t really exploit them. Being Black, the film naturally includes a jolly jingles setting, and there’s yet more potential there. But, aside from carollers hiding machine gun-wielding assassins, the picture fails to enjoy the absurdity of its fractured festivities.


There are good moments in the build-up but no great ones; the car crash, and the first glimpse of Charlie (“I’m coming back. You know that, don’t you?”; she has the sub-goth flair of a Shakespear’s Sister fan), Samantha discovering an aptitude for chopping vegetables really fast, and the domestic altercation with One-Eyed Jack (Joseph McKenna, relishing the memorable line, what else, “I want my eye back, bitch!”) leading to some second-nature neck-snapping action (“Chefs do that” she unconvincingly reassures other half Hal; one wonders if Black was nodding to Steven Seagal’s role in Under Siege).


Davis is appealing enough, clearly relishing the chance to go dark as Charly (“Eight years later and a good deal frumpier”), and early scenes with her daughter, remonstrating her when she falls over ice skating (“Stop being a little baby and get up. Life is pain. Get used to it”) offer a taster of what might have been. But, once she teams with Samuel L Jackson’s seedy PI Mitch Henessey (a part renamed and rewritten for Jackson), the plot shifts down a gear, becoming more familiar and pedestrian, and the teaming simply fails to elicit the sparks it ought.


This is no classic mismatched duo, as in Lethal Weapon or Last Boy Scout, and the gags and interplay, despite Harlin failing to helping matters, aren’t up to Black’s usual form. Early on Mitch comments, “I’m pissing myself, you’re so funny”, and too often Black likewise falls prey to easy or lowest common denominator humour, be it a boy actually pissing himself or Charly baiting villain Timothy (Craig Bierko, essaying a faintly dull, run-of-the-mill psycho; what this needed was another Last Boy Scout’s Milo) about the size of his Johnson (“Oh, honey, only four inches”, to which he replies “You’ll feel me”: nice). Black generally makes a virtue of crudity, but the crudity in Long Kiss Goodnight lacks inspiration.


Mitch: (observing Nathan’s guns) Jesus, old man, how many of those you got?
Nathan: Three. One shoulder, one hip, and one down here, right next to Mr. Wally, where most pat downs never reveal it, as even the most hardened federal agent is often reluctant to feel another man’s groin. Any other questions?
Mitch: Yeah. What’s the weather like on your planet?


With Black we’re watching to see funny, caustic and splenetic characters, be they good guys or bad guys, but little in The Long Kiss Goodnight tickles. Jackson is okay, but even at this point, a mere two years from Pulp Fiction, it feels like he’s going through the motions (Jackson cites this as one of his favourite performances, and he certainly gets to wear a nice green blazer, but the dialogue isn’t up to the standard he’s regularly provided by Tarantino, and as the sidekick he has little memorable to dig into; “That’s a duck, not a dick”, being probably the best).


Black usually writes smart or abrasive kids, but this one is just winsome (and come the end she’s even resorting to pleading with mommy to live); you know that it should, but Davis asking her daughter “Hey, should we get a dog?” in the middle of killing bad guys doesn’t get the necessary yuks.


Patrick Malahide shows up as a bad guy, during a period when Brits were villains in every other movie (he’s CIA here) but he isn’t terribly interesting. It’s left to Brian Cox, who would, of course, go on to Bourne, to steal the laughs with abandon, be it sitting in an old people’s home, staring at a cat’s arsehole for three hours, or holding forth on the locations of his concealed weapons. He’s hilarious, and if the whole movie had paired him with Davis, or with Jackson, then things might have been cooking, but they kill him off within about 15 minutes of his arrival, which is a terrible mistake.


Black also structures the movie around unlikely conveniences that might fly by your ear if the patter and action were sufficiently distracting. It just happens that very act that led to Charly losing her memory all those years ago is currently being rehashed by the CIA? Hmmm.


His McGuffin is quite a good one, though, suitably conspiratorial since it’s based on an incident relating to the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing (“During the trial, one of the bombers claimed the CIA had advanced knowledge”). Malahide’s Perkins is out to secure a budget increase such that “You’re telling me you’re going to fake some terrorist thing just to scare some money out of congress?” Which does admittedly lead to Perkins’ amusing response (“I have no idea how to fake killing four thousand people, so we’re just gonna have to do it for real. Blame it on the Muslims, naturally. Then I get my funding”). Of course, some would claim exactly that happened about five years later, even to the extent of posting YouTube videos on the subject of Black’s remarkable precognition.


Black infamously received $4m for his script, a new record payday. Ironically, he then had to go through another six drafts to knock it into the desired shape. Part of that was down to New Line having only enough money for a $65m movie, rather than the envisaged $100m one (the picture made $89m globally, so no one was entirely happy with the outcome). He may have stayed on board throughout the process, but the result is infinitely less satisfying than the much more messed with Last Boy Scout.


The problem then, aside from being rudely unfinessed with his action, is that Harlin simply is not a witty director. And it was abundantly clear from Die Hard 2 that, as likely as not, his decisions will kill rather than instil pace. His presence just doesn’t work here; there’s no build up, catharsis, or suspense. He’s unable to judge tone or pitch. The Long Kiss Goodnight lacks anything vital to engage the viewer, despite a solid set-up. Without internal tension, an hour in and you’re still waiting for it to ignite. It never does.





Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Must the duck be here?

The Favourite (2018)
(SPOILERS) In my review of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I suggested The Favourite might be a Yorgos Lanthimos movie for those who don’t like Yorgos Lanthimos movies. At least, that’s what I’d heard. And certainly, it’s more accessible than either of his previous pictures, the first two thirds resembling a kind of Carry On Up the Greenaway, but despite these broader, more slapstick elements and abundant caustic humour, there’s a prevailing detachment on the part of the director, a distancing oversight that rather suggests he doesn’t feel very much for his subjects, no matter how much they emote, suffer or connive. Or pratfall.

Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) There’s no guessing he’s back. John Wick’s return is most definite and demonstrable, in a sequel that does what sequels ought in all the right ways, upping the ante while never losing sight of the ingredients that made the original so formidable. John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the minimalist, stripped-back vehicle and character of the first instalment furnished with an elaborate colour palette and even more idiosyncrasies around the fringes, rather like Mad Max in that sense, and director Chad Stahleski (this time without the collaboration of David Leitch, but to no discernible deficit) ensures the action is filled to overflowing, but with an even stronger narrative drive that makes the most of changes of gear, scenery and motivation.

The result is a giddily hilarious, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride (don’t believe The New York Times review: it is not “altogether more solemn” I can only guess Jeannette Catsoulis didn’t revisit the original in the interven…

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

I don’t know if what is happening is fair, but it’s the only thing I can think of that’s close to justice.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
(SPOILERS) I think I knew I wasn’t going to like The Killing of a Sacred Deer in the first five minutes. And that was without the unedifying sight of open-heart surgery that takes up the first four. Yorgos Lanthimos is something of a Marmite director, and my responses to this and his previous The Lobster (which I merely thought was “okay” after exhausting its thin premise) haven’t induced me to check out his earlier work. Of course, he has now come out with a film that, reputedly, even his naysayers will like, awards-darling The Favourite

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …