Friday, April 9, 2010

Renny Harlin's The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)

I don't know anything about the specs of any firearm. Aspects such as fire rate, firepower, recoil rate, magazine capacity, etc. are all beyond my knowledge. I do know that a gun is a machine, and like other machines, it can be prone to a degree of malfunction--bullets can get lodged in the chamber, for example, and since guns are made of metal and produce heat, metal can expand and subsequently affect the firing rate, recoil, and accuracy of the machine with continuous use. If I ever went to a gun dealer and had the need to purchase and use a firearm, this is all the bullshit that I would ask the gun dealer about (and of course, how much is this thing going to cost?). I do not, however, ever anticipate the need to purchase a firearm and hope I never purchase or own one. I also do not arm myself with this degree of critical analysis when I go into a cinema to watch a movie. From years of movie watching, I know the general rule: the bigger the gun, the more damage it produces and the bigger the explosion on the screen. If, for example, Lee Van Cleef rode up on his horse in front of three or four bandits, and then shot twenty to thirty bullets out of his six-shooter without reloading and turned the bandits into piecemeal, I'm cheering. Lee Van Cleef was a bad mofo on screen--period. I'll forgive the fact that I know in the real world, a gun which holds six bullets cannot shoot twenty or thirty. When I watch a film which deals with, again for example, characters who engage in my own profession, I will often forgive the fact that the depiction of my profession on screen often differs from the reality from my experience in the profession. Cinema has its own unspoken rules and is in itself, its own reality. However, when cinema wants to shoot for some credibility and adhere to the rules of the world of its viewers, then I'll take note. Not only will I take note, I will judge what's on screen by its rules.
Take, for example, the film under review here, Renny Harlin's The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), specifically, for example, one scene. Geena Davis plays the heroine/anti-heroine, who has a personality schism resulting from amnesia, where in her previous life she was a government agent engaged in "counter assassination" to her new life where she's a Donna Reed-ish loving wife and mother, baking cookies and hosting Christmas parties, and Samuel Jackson plays a shady, wise-cracking private eye who is helping Davis's character discover her previous identity. The two arrive at a train station to meet Dr. Nathan Waldman (Brian Cox) who demands to meet Davis's character there. He knows her true identity and knows that she's in danger. Jackson's character has this habit of singing a song detailing what he is doing, so he sings aloud that he is putting his car keys in his left pocket and his gun, which he pulls from the trunk, into his right pocket upon the two's arrival. Hint, hint. Davis's character looks to the right of the train station where in the background is a sign which reads "Danger. Thin Ice." Hint, hint, again. The two enter the train station, and whoops, a shootout occurs when the bad guys arrive. Davis and Jackson's characters flee to an upper level of the train station and are pinned in a hallway between the bad guys below and an incoming grenade. Jackson's character emphasizes this point by yelling aloud that there is no way out. He tells Davis's character that he only has three shots left in his revolver (which I presume only holds six) and hands her a machine gun. Davis's character grabs his revolver and fires the remaining shots at a window at the end of the hallway, and the two run towards it and jump out of the now cracked glass (which gives away). During their fall, Davis's character sprays a bunch of bullets on the thin ice, cracking it and creating a safe landing for her and Jackson's character. Did I need to know that Jackson had a revolver before going into the train station? If he pulled the revolver and began shooting, would I, the viewer, be surprised? The Long Kiss Goodnight already established that Jackson's character was a private eye and shady. Is it so far-fetched that he would hold a firearm? Did I need to know that the ice was thin? How thin was it? Obviously thin enough that machine gun bullets could crack it but supposedly not thin enough that two grown adults could not crack the ice with their own body weight. Aren't signs detailing "dangerous thin ice" for skaters or for unsuspecting folks who might simply walk across the ice and fall in? Why did I need to know that Jackson's revolver had only three bullets? Three bullets, I suppose, is enough to crack the glass of the window pane, but it would not leave enough ammunition for Davis' character to crack the ice below. Did Jackson's character have to yell "no way out," when it was clearly established that the bad guys were below and the shot of the hallway was tight, clearly delineating no other exits?
I wanted to have fun while watching Harlin's follow-up to his flop, Cutthroat Island (1995). The Long Kiss Goodnight boasts two very talented actors as its leads and is also the only collaboration between director Harlin and screenwriter, Shane Black. Of all the props and gadgets and technicians and stunt people paid for and paid by, respectively, the budget, the three biggest assets were Davis, Jackson, and Black. Black's previous action scripts such as Lethal Weapon (1987) and The Last Boy Scout (1991) contained uneven dialogue and formulaic plots, yet both were successful: while some of his dialogue sounded tinny and/or trite, the overwhelming majority of it was extremely witty and quick. The two leads of both films, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover and Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans, respectively, possessed an immediate chemistry, and Black's dialogue fueled their chemistry, instead of sounding simply hip or self-referential. (Black's best script has subsequently come with his sole directorial credit, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005).) Davis and Jackson possess a very strong chemistry, as well, and while Black's dialogue feels at times a retread of his previous work, overall in The Long Kiss Goodnight, the majority of it is in his signature quick-witted style. Prior to her role in Long Kiss, Geena Davis had proven herself an actress who could play extremely diverse roles. She was super sweet and funny in Beetlejuice (1988) and was absolutely fantastic in her dramatic roles such as Thelma and Louise (1991). Samuel Jackson was appearing in almost every film subsequent to his breakout role in Pulp Fiction (1994), and audiences could not get enough of his charisma: leave a camera static on Jackson, feed him some over-the-top dialogue, and he delivered. Black penned a good role for Davis, since she easily handled her "dual" role: she's sweet and sugary in her motherly role and acid-tongued and defiant (and quite credible) in her badass role. Likewise, Black must have had a field day writing for Jackson: his comedic timing and delivery are almost pitch-perfect. It's too fun watching Jackson.Remember what I said previously about rules? Eff 'em. As soon as I make a rule for myself I want to break it. (Normally, I attempt to leave the pronoun "I" as much as possible out of my reviews, but with this entry, I've blown that rule to bits.) Likewise in the second half of The Long Kiss Goodnight, Harlin and company abandoned their quest for verisimilitude and credibility. During the first hour of the film, I felt as a viewer in an adversarial position with the film makers: there was such a labored over-exposition in the film, as if the film makers were trying to prove their case for real-world credibility. The action set-ups were grounded to appear in logic yet wanting also to be gloriously over-the-top and exciting. During the second hour of Long Kiss, (in my best Maude Lebowski impression) the plot becomes ludicrous and the intensity and frequency of the action scenes becomes the focus. When the participants of Long Kiss loosen up, surprise, surprise, the film becomes infectious fun. Watching a platinum-blonde Davis skate across an iced-over pond while firing two guns at a moving car; or watching her pull a gun from a dead man's crotch while underwater in a medieval act of torture; or watching her dispense fuel from a baby doll in order to create an explosion for a daring escape are scenes of Hollywood Action Movie bliss. No one is having as much fun as Davis: when she recalls her previous identity of being a government assassin, she's devilishly good, always sexy, and really intense at times. She also reserves quite a few tender moments (although some are strained) in the final act. Davis's character and actions provide the fuel for Jackson's character, and he feeds off her character by always providing an engaging foil. He never loses a beat in his timing. Throughout the whole film, Jackson, like Davis, is completely charming and often sympathetic.At two hours, The Long Kiss Goodnight could dispense with a lot in the first act. However, I've truly softened towards it during the years (and to director Renny Harlin who received a lot of harsh criticism over those same years). When it wants to be, it's a phenomenal Hollywood action movie. When it goes for something else, it 1.) induces a rant by a blowhard blogger and 2.) really polarizes the problems of big-budget Hollywood films. Anyway, staying in the world of cinema is a lot more fun for the folks on both sides of the screen.


Mob said...

I really need to go and buy a copy of this eight now while I'm thinking about it, if only for Jackson's routine about how he's gonna hire people to buttfuck some dude if he somehow manages to escape a prison conviction.

Great review of a film I don't hear all that much about.

Hans A. said...

Thnx Mob, I appreciate it. That scene is right at the beginning. It's memorable, and Jackson, like most of his scenes, carries it all by himself. DVDs for this one should be floating in the less than a dollar section. See you later.

The Film Connoisseur said...

I remember enjoyint this film a lot when it first came out, and I remember the over the top ending with a bridge exploding. Also, I seem to remember noticing that it was a miniature.

But still, Geena Davis in kick ass mode, and Samuel Jackson along for the ride? Sounds like a fun movie.

Shane Jack writing it is the icing on the cake, consequently, I really enjoy The Last Boy Scout, its so 90s.

Hans A. said...

Thnx Francisco for taking the time to read and share your thoughts. TLKG is a lot of fun, a little long, but a fun one, nonetheless.