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.

Popular posts from this blog

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Other monks will meet their deaths here. And they too will have blackened fingers. And blackened tongues.

The Name of the Rose (1986) (SPOILERS) Umberto Eco wasn’t awfully impressed by Jean Jacques-Annaud’s adaptation of his novel – or “ palimpsest of Umberto Eco’s novel ” as the opening titles announce – to the extent that he nixed further movie versions of his work. Later, he amended that view, calling it “ a nice movie ”. He also, for balance, labelled The Name of the Rose his worst novel – “ I hate this book and I hope you hate it too ”. Essentially, he was begrudging its renown at the expense of his later “ superior ” novels. I didn’t hate the novel, although I do prefer the movie, probably because I saw it first and it was everything I wanted from a medieval Sherlock Holmes movie set in a monastery and devoted to forbidden books, knowledge and opinions.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies.

Watership Down (1978) (SPOILERS) I only read Watership Down recently, despite having loved the film from the first, and I was immediately impressed with how faithful, albeit inevitably compacted, Martin Rosen’s adaptation is. It manages to translate the lyrical, mythic and metaphysical qualities of Richard Adams’ novel without succumbing to dumbing down or the urge to cater for a broader or younger audience. It may be true that parents are the ones who get most concerned over the more disturbing elements of the picture but, given the maturity of the content, it remains a surprise that, as with 2001: A Space Odyssey (which may on the face of it seem like an odd bedfellow), this doesn’t garner a PG certificate. As the makers noted, Watership Down is at least in part an Exodus story, but the biblical implications extend beyond Hazel merely leading his fluffle to the titular promised land. There is a prevalent spiritual dimension to this rabbit universe, one very much

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983) (SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk , and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm ’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. T

They say if we go with them, we'll live forever. And that's good.

Cocoon (1985) Anyone coming across Cocoon cold might reasonably assume the involvement of Steven Spielberg in some capacity. This is a sugary, well-meaning tale of age triumphing over adversity. All thanks to the power of aliens. Substitute the elderly for children and you pretty much have the manner and Spielberg for Ron Howard and you pretty much have the approach taken to Cocoon . Howard is so damn nice, he ends up pulling his punches even on the few occasions where he attempts to introduce conflict to up the stakes. Pauline Kael began her review by expressing the view that consciously life-affirming movies are to be consciously avoided. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but you’re definitely wise to steel yourself for the worst (which, more often than not, transpires). Cocoon is as dramatically inert as the not wholly dissimilar (but much more disagreeable, which is saying something) segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie directed by Spielberg ( Kick the Can ). There