A government-trained professional assassin suffers from amnesia and seeks clues that might illuminate the past. Rogue forces within the government aren't happy the assassin is still alive. They come gunning.
That's the motivating if not entirely original (cf. The Bourne Identity) idea behind The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), out this week on Blu-ray. The big-budget thriller sputtered at the box office but offers inventive, often witty entertainment for those who don't mind the non-stop cursing, bloody violence and characters whose ability to outrun fireballs and recover from certain death leaves credibility crumpled and whimpering on the floor.
The movie also offers the terrific team of Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson as, respectively, the amnesiac agent and the corrupt private eye she hires to find out who she is. Davis plays polar opposites: the Suzie Homemaker named Samantha who for eight years has raised the daughter with whom she was pregnant when amnesia struck, and the steely-eyed assassin named Charly who re-emerges unexpectedly. (Jackson says women come up to him all the time saying they love the film because of Davis's strong character.) Jackson plays Mitch, a wisecracking sidekick and grudging protector with a line in profane banter that marks the screenplay as the work of Shane Black, writer of Lethal Weapon.
"What I'm saying is, back when we first met, you were all like, 'Oh, phooey. I burned the darn muffins,'" Mitch tells Samantha. "Now you go into a bar, 10 minutes later sailors come running out. What up with that?"
Black throws everything but the kitchen sink into this film, and even the sink would be there if it could explode on cue. He loves catchphrases, climaxes that veer between the rousing and the bathetic, and self-referential dialogue. "This ain't no ham on rye, pal," Mitch says while training his gun on a bad guy across from the Honest Ed's bargain store in Toronto (Ontario is pretending to be New Jersey). "What the hell are you doing?" asks Samantha. Mitch replies, "Saving your life. I would've been here sooner, but I was thinking up that 'ham on rye' line."
Black has a willing ally in director Renny Harlin, who was married to Davis (until she learned in 1997 that he'd fathered a child with a staff member at their production company) and who has a knack for over-the-top mayhem (see Die Hard 2).
The Long Kiss Goodnight spelled good night on a few fronts.
Davis, who had won a best-supporting Oscar for her work in 1988's The Accidental Tourist, saw her career coast after this box-office disappointment and the Harlin-directed massive flop that preceded it, Cutthroat Island. She went on to play the doting mother of a talking mouse in Stuart Little and its sequel. The Geena Davis Show, her 2000-01 sitcom, was half a good idea. While the part set at the office (with co-stars Mimi Rogers and Harland Williams) was entertaining, the domestic part (with Peter Horton as her hubby) was a bore. The series Commander-in-Chief (2005-06), with Davis as the U.S. president and Donald Sutherland as her adversary, started off smartly but crashed after a dispute between the network and creator Rod Lurie.
Screenwriter Black received a record-setting $4-million (U.S.) for The Long Kiss Goodnight. But he left the scene immediately after to recharge his batteries and, as he later said, fell further off the radar than he planned. It wasn't until 2005 that he made a modest comeback as writer-director of the entertaining Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer.
And finally, it was good night for the 126-year-old Windermere House on Ontario's Lake Rosseau, an upscale resort that burned to the ground while The Long Kiss Goodnight was being shot on the property. A link was suspected, but findings were inconclusive. The inn was rebuilt the following year with a new sprinkler system, rising from the ashes like Charly and every other bloodied, beaten, seemingly unkillable major character in the movie.
OTHER NEW RELEASES
The Tourist (2010) Ricky Gervais had it right. The only reason this could have been nominated for Golden Globes for best movie, actor and actress was so the foreign press could pose for photos with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. It's an oddly muted film. It has the structure of a farce without the laughs, a potential romance without sparks and a chase film without the pace. On the other hand, it has gorgeous shots of Venice, amusing moments from actors in small parts (Rufus Sewell, Timothy Dalton) and, perhaps to its credit, action sequences you can imagine happening in real life. Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck ( The Lives of Others) says in a DVD/Blu-ray commentary that he wanted the audience to be enveloped in "hilarity and luxury and beauty and hopefully some suspense." Dial your expectations down to "leisurely" and you may enjoy the ride.
Yogi Bear (2010) Did anyone really expect this to be more than a workaday live-action/animated movie with a lazy plot about greedy authorities versus the forces of good at Jellystone Park? One bright spot is that the computer-generated Yogi and Boo-Boo look fine and Dan Aykroyd and Justin Timberlake got the voices right.
How Do You Know (2010) Writer-director James L. Brooks assembled a good cast for his love-triangle rom-com - Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, Jack Nicholson - but the disappointing result, Rick Groen wrote in his two-star review, is "a stuttering two-hour outing bereft of any rhythm, a bunch of scenes in search of a movie."