Bad Movies I Love: “The Long Kiss Goodnight”
First, let us immediately distinguish between a Bad Movie, a Bad Movie With Merit, and a Bad Movie I Love.
Bad Movies are simply bad. They just suck. Okay? Suck like a three-way between a hooker, a vacuum and a black hole. See: Boondock Saints.
Bad Movies With Merit have everything going for them and still end up with MASSIVE FAIL stamped on their well-intentioned foreheads. See: Crash. [Haggis, that is.]
Bad Movies I Love sometimes have merit, but usually not. They’re typically distinguished by having: a) an overall, generalized stink of badness; b) presence in my life at some formative time or another; and/or c) at least one thing that’s really, truly, unarguably awesome about them, marooned within the flotsam of the film that surrounds it.
This is where we begin.
Renny Harlin specializes in fabulous trash. In the 90s he was the go-to guy for dumbass big-dick shoot-em-ups like Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger and, yes, Cutthroat Island, which will eventually have its very own Bad Movie I Love label to add to its wall of accolades, conveniently budget-sized to fit right underneath the “I Sunk a Movie Studio and All I Got Was This Lousy Plaque” plaque.
Anyway, this glorious piece of batshit craziness asks you to believe that Geena Davis is an indestructible super-killer for the government who gets popped in the head, falls off a cliff, comes to with amnesia (otherwise there wouldn’t be a story, see) and delivers the child she’d been toting along inside her like that extra clip for the 9mm. Shenanigans ensue when her past catches up with her, forcing her to enlist the services of a low-rent private eye who sounds a lot like Jules Winfield. Because it is Jules Winfield.
Being a late-nineties Renny Harlin production, The Long Kiss Goodnight has everything: gratuitously bloody shootouts, ginormous explosions, cornball dialogue every few seconds or so (“…and everyone knows, when you make an assumption, you make an ass out of ‘u’ and ‘umption’”), and action sequences so ridiculous you have to simply stop and admire the audacity of the mad genius who thought that somewhere along the line, this might actually work. Witness: A kid tossed into a treehouse, through a hole blown in the wall of the adjoining house, by a mad killer who’s seen Super Geena on TV and has come a-blazing because he wants his eye back, bitch.
Look, on paper, this actually had potential. Shane Black’s early drafts, available on the Interwebs, read like kick-ass genre thrillers. The problem is really one-fold: Geena Davis, who’s convincing enough as a loving mother (Shane Black’s idea of one, anyway) but not so much as a coldhearted, gunslinging super-agent. Poor Renny was a little too dazzled by his then-wife to realize that her awkward physicality was a poor fit for a character that needed to move with lethal grace; her hand-to-hand combat scenes fail to convince. However, she does get to do a pretty neat little trick with a shot glass, which I have tried and failed many times to replicate.
And like many Terrible Movies I Love, there’s some good stuff, too. Brian Cox has a fabulous introductory scene alongside the wonderful character actress Gladys O’Connor, as a cranky ex-spook going to seed:
Alice, please. Your dog, Alice. It and my appetite are mutually exclusive.
Well, what’s wrong with the dog?
Simple. He’s been licking his asshole for the last three straight hours. I submit to you that there is nothing there worth more than an hour’s attention. I should think that whatever he is attempting to dislodge is either gone for good, or there to stay. Wouldn’t you agree?
Jackson gets the rest of the good lines, and to Black’s credit, there are a lot of them. The rest are turkeys, but Jackson makes them work anyway, a good example of Movie Star alchemy.
What doesn’t work is the noxious misogyny, the scourge of much of Black’s filmography. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which I enjoyed thoroughly, soft-pedaled it as much as possible but in a Black script, it hangs there like a bad odor you can’t quite fan away.
Many 90s flicks, particularly in the action and sci-fi genres, confused positive portrayals of women with simple gender reapplication. You know… the whole “write a guy and just change the name” approach. As a character, Samantha Caine/Charley Baltimore is a pulp-fiction construct to its core, adhering to Black’s allegiance to his inspirations. But instead of being a character caught in a tug-of-war between her military training and her motherly instincts, she instead comes off a flimsy excuse for a primarily male filmmaking team to punch, shoot, stab, drown, torture and/or insult an Oscar-winning actress. Black is clearly trying to add a fresh dimension to his trademark hardboiled cynicism, but the glib, cutesy mother-daughter material negates any tension that might be derived from the character’s internal struggle. And then there’s the wonderful moment where Davis tells a would-be mugger, “No, thanks, I’m saving myself until I get raped,” which is basically a misogynistic writer’s way of saying, “Hey, some of my best friends are bitches.” It’s a fundamentally misconceived character, and Davis has the unenviable task of trying to build a bridge across an impossible gap.
Politically, The Long Kiss Goodnight is simply goofy. The film’s fictional President invokes healthcare as the reason for a lack of antiterrorism funding (a screwy claim even in a pre-9/11 era). And when the film’s Big Bad, a slimy CIA bigwig played with oily ease by Patrick Malahide, reveals his big plan is to blow up a bunch of civilians to stimulate Congressional funding for offshore intelligence operations, one starts to wonder if the next threat up the chain from him is Dark Helmet.
Finally, Black’s more dramatically appropriate (read: downbeat; read: commercially nonviable) ending was, of course, given the heave-ho for the usual tacked-on, god-awful, reshot-at-hour-eleven coda, this one involving Larry King and a groaner pun joke that some grip must have scribbled on a piece of gaffer’s tape right before they rolled on take #400. It’s too bad the ending doesn’t do Jackson’s character justice; however I feel certain that, as Jackson blew his studio booty on another round of golf, this was not on his mind.
Look, if you like your bang-bang served up straight and hard, The Long Kiss Goodnight is it. There’s some killer camerawork, including a great reveal of Niagara Falls…
… a shot of cars in hot pursuit of a tanker truck at 1:40:17 that makes my jaw drop every time:
… and the occasional camera angle that makes no damn sense at all:
…as well as lots of bullets, David Morse, and a bit about New Jersey that made me laugh so hard, at my first viewing, that I nearly fell out of my seat, and that’s not an exaggeration at all.
But this is also a movie where Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson outrun a grenade explosion by running towards a window, shooting at it, jumping out it as the fireball blasts out over their heads, shooting out the ice of the lake underneath them as they fall five or six stories, drop into the lake, and escape unscathed.
You’ve been warned.