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Kiss, Kiss, Bust, Bust

Geena Davis & Samuel L. Jackson
Kerry Hayes

Partners in Crime: Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson survive an attack of explosive set pieces in "The Long Kiss Goodnight."

Brutish 'Long Kiss Goodnight' dies for want of a script doctor

By Richard von Busack

THE PREMISE for The Long Kiss Goodnight shows promise: An amnesiac New Jersey housewife, Samantha Caine (Geena Davis), turns out to be Charlie Baltimore, a Femme Nikita­style assassin. With the help of a low-budget detective named Mitch Henessey (Samuel L. Jackson), she finds out what happened to her, fights off various shadowy government types and reconciles being a top-notch secret agent with being a mommy. In the hands of director Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger, Cutthroat Island) and writer Shane Black (The Last Boy Scout), though, the film is an unpleasant, brutish piece of work, a casualty that died for lack of a script doctor--perhaps dumb enough and explosive enough to be a hit but not really human enough to interest anyone in the audience smarter than a bag of hammers.

Davis is possibly the least-convincing bifurcated heroine since Elizabeth Montgomery played evil cousin Serena on Bewitched. Admittedly, an amnesiac heroine raises inconsistencies in the plot, but The Long Kiss Goodnight poses such challenges to internal logic that it seems like Harlin and Black have a touch of amnesia themselves. Black is perhaps the crudest and most grossly overpaid writer in the history of cinema; call this opinion envy, but I'd rather spend my time envying someone with talent as well as money. The Long Kiss Goodnight relies on the two laws of the modern action movie: A) when stuck for what to do next, send in some snipers in a helicopter; B) when shooting fish in a barrel, make sure the audience thinks the fish asked for it. It's bad enough when the movie tries some kid-snuggling to win our hearts (Caine's daughter ends up a hostage, for instance), but Black can't tell irony from inanity: no character is too sophisticated to have a dick joke or a toilet joke ready to go.

It's a noisy movie, with semiautomatic fire, explosions and an Alan Silvestri score that would give a taiko drummer a headache. When Black comes up with what he considers percussive dialogue to match the ambient noise, it sounds like he's been typing with boxing gloves on. "Look at my inordinately large ass," says Davis as Baltimore, whose aerobicized rump is supposed to be evidence that her other personality let herself go. Henessey, pulling a gun, says, "This ain't ham on rye," and then explains that he was almost late on the draw because "I was thinking up that 'ham on rye' line."

Sometimes the grubbiness hits the right chord, as when Henessey tells a pretty good joke to Larry King at the end of the movie. But the joke makes you laugh not because it relieves tension but because the finale (a fire fight next to a bomb-laden oil tanker stuck on a bridge) is so little fun by comparison. Harlin clubs you with fight scenes and torture scenes, making Davis' Baltimore hurt and bleed; there's none of the gracefulness of the Bond or the Jackie Chan movies here. Worse, not one serious moment of sexual attraction between Davis and Jackson is allowed. Inevitably, there isn't even one long kiss.

The Long Kiss Goodnight (R; 120 min.), directed by Renny Harlin, written by Shane Black, photographed by Guillermo Navarro and starring Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson.

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From the October 17-23, 1996 issue of Metro

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