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

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

You guys sure like watermelon.

The Irishman aka I Heard You Paint Houses (2019)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps, if Martin Scorsese hadn’t been so opposed to the idea of Marvel movies constituting cinema, The Irishman would have been a better film. It’s a decent film, assuredly. A respectable film, definitely. But it’s very far from being classic. And a significant part of that is down to the usually assured director fumbling the execution. Or rather, the realisation. I don’t know what kind of crazy pills the ranks of revered critics have been taking so as to recite as one the mantra that you quickly get used to the de-aging effects so intrinsic to its telling – as Empire magazine put it, “you soon… fuggadaboutit” – but you don’t. There was no point during The Irishman that I was other than entirely, regrettably conscious that a 75-year-old man was playing the title character. Except when he was playing a 75-year-old man.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

You're skipping Christmas! Isn't that against the law?

Christmas with the Kranks (2004)
Ex-coke dealer Tim Allen’s underwhelming box office career is, like Vince Vaughn’s, regularly in need of a boost from an indiscriminate public willing to see any old turkey posing as a prize Christmas comedy.  He made three Santa Clauses, and here is joined by Jamie Lee Curtis as a couple planning to forgo the usual neighbourhood festivities for a cruise.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

We’ll bring it out on March 25 and we’ll call it… Christmas II!

Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
(SPOILERS) Alexander Salkind (alongside son Ilya) inhabited not dissimilar territory to the more prolific Dino De Laurentis, in that his idea of manufacturing a huge blockbuster appeared to be throwing money at it while being stingy with, or failing to appreciate, talent where it counted. Failing to understand the essential ingredients for a quality movie, basically, something various Hollywood moguls of the ‘80s would inherit. Santa Claus: The Movie arrived in the wake of his previously colon-ed big hit, Superman: The Movie, the producer apparently operating under the delusion that flying effects and :The Movie in the title would induce audiences to part with their cash, as if they awarded Saint Nick a must-see superhero mantle. The only surprise was that his final cinematic effort, Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, wasn’t similarly sold, but maybe he’d learned his lesson by then. Or maybe not, given the behind-camera talent he failed to secure.

When primal forces of nature tell you to do something, the prudent thing is not to quibble over details.

Field of Dreams (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s a near-Frank Darabont quality to Phil Alden Robinson producing such a beloved feature and then subsequently offering not all that much of note. But Darabont, at least, was in the same ballpark as The Shawshank Redemption with The Green MileSneakers is good fun, The Sum of All Our Fears was a decent-sized success, but nothing since has come close to his sophomore directorial effort in terms of quality. You might put that down to the source material, WP Kinsella’s 1982 novel Shoeless Joe, but the captivating magical-realist balance hit by Field of Dreams is a deceptively difficult one to strike, and the biggest compliment you can play Robinson is that he makes it look easy.

On a long enough timeline, the survival of everyone drops to zero.

Fight Club (1999)
(SPOILERS) Still David Fincher’s peak picture, mostly by dint of Fight Club being the only one you can point to and convincingly argue that that the source material is up there with his visual and technical versatility. If Seven is a satisfying little serial-killer-with-a-twist story vastly improved by his involvement (just imagine it directed by Joel Schumacher… or watch 8mm), Fight Club invites him to utilise every trick in the book to tell the story of not-Tyler Durden, whom we encounter at a very peculiar time in his life.

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…