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The Best Movie You Never Saw: The Long Kiss Goodnight

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be looking at THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT!

THE STORY: A small-town schoolteacher (Geena Davis) with amnesia discovers she’s a deadly assassin being hunted by her former employers. To fill in the blanks, she hits the road with a shady private detective (Samuel L. Jackson) only to discover some secrets are best left buried.

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Geena Davis, Samuel L. Jackson, Brian Cox, David Morse, and Craig Bierko. Written by Shane Black. Directed by Renny Harlin.

"My dude! I love that movie so much. A movie way ahead of its time. Geena Davis — awesome Charly Baltimore character. The studio didn’t know how to market that film because they didn’t know that women like seeing themselves as badasses. I kept saying, ‘You need to advertise this thing during the day when women are watching soaps.’ Whatever. They were like, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ But it’s gone on to be like this great cult classic because Geena is so good.” – Samuel L. JacksonThe Undefeated Interview

long kiss goodnight samuel l jackson geena davis

THE HISTORY: Back in the nineties, the female-led action flick was a rarity. While Sigourney Weaver blasted her way to big box office (and an Academy Award nomination) with ALIENS and Linda Hamilton got jacked for T2, neither of them was able to parlay that success into a slew of action roles, with Hamilton in particular immediately being sidelined in the genre. An exception to the rule was Geena Davis, who, at the time, happened to be married to Renny Harlin, one of the best action directors of the era (DIE HARD 2: DIE HARDER, CLIFFHANGER).

The two put a ton of money into a big-budget swashbuckler, CUTTHROAT ISLAND, but that project quickly spiraled out of control when the original leading man, Michael Douglas, bailed and they had to settle on a much less established name for the male lead, Matthew Modine. The budget, which involved lots of shooting on the water (always a disaster) spiraled out of control and eventually bankrupted the studio (Carolco), earning a measly $10 million at the U.S box office against a $100 million budget.

long kiss goodnight samuel l jackson geena davis

Undeterred, they went right back into action again with THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT, based on a hot script by Shane Black, and this time the shoot went well, with them bringing it in at a relatively reasonable $65 million. Sadly, residual bad vibes off CUTTHROAT ISLAND seemed to doom this, despite respectful reviews and a strong cinema score rating. It topped out at a poor $33 million domestically, although collections were better worldwide, bringing the total to $89 million and change. Years later it developed a cult following, and to some degree it seemed to be a major influence on the recent CAPTAIN MARVEL.

WHY IT’S GREAT: THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT is a stone-cold action classic. It’s crazy that this movie wasn’t a megahit and Geena Davis deserves to be every bit as iconic for the part as her contemporaries. To me, this is the best of both worlds in that it embraces the awesome over-the-top excess of the genre at this time but also sports a rock-solid script by the great Shane Black. The premise may seem old hat in the wake of THE BOURNE IDENTITY, but let’s not forget – this was 1996 and Matt Damon was still working on the script for GOOD WILL HUNTING and not yet an action hero.

Geena Davis is perfect in what’s essentially a dual role. As Samantha, the kind-hearted suburban mom she’s become in the wake of her amnesia, Davis radiates kindness. But, as Charly, the merciless assassin with her bleached blonde hair, she’s just as convincing, and the moral shading the film evokes, suggesting that there was always a buried element of Samantha in Charly even if she refused to acknowledge it, pays off.

long kiss goodnight craig bierko geena davis

It doesn’t hurt that she’s given an ace sidekick in Samuel L. Jackson, who was coming into his own at the time. As the movie starts, you kinda think his wisecracking P.I is going to be the tough guy (and he certainly sounds like a Shane Black hero) but that’s not the case- at all. His Mitch Hennesey is a great creation, and you can see why it became one of Sam the Man’s favorite roles. For one thing, he gets to say “motherf*cker” a whole lot, thanks to the R-rating. But, he’s also given a real streak of vulnerability behind his bluster, having a troubled relationship with his son and serving as Charly’s conscience later in the film when she has to weigh her maternal responsibilities against being a stone-cold badass.

The supporting cast is ace, with Craig Bierko memorably slimy as the movie’s big bad, Timothy, the wisecracking, brutal assassin. Also look for David Morse, who has a memorably sadistic torture scene with Davis, plus Brian Cox in the first what became a string a character parts for the man in action films of the era (also – make sure to check him out HBO’s “Succession” where he’s arguably giving a career-best performance).

long kiss goodnight samuel l jackson geena davis

“I’ve created a treatment for [a sequel] where basically in a nutshell the story is that in the opening sequence Geena’s character is murdered. And her daughter, who now would be in her early 20s, who was five or six years old in the original, she would be now in her 20s. And she’s in university. After her mother dies, she receives this mysterious package. And there’s something in it that she doesn’t really understand And now all the government and a couple of bad guys are after her because they have a hunch that the mother sent the item to her. So now she’s on the run. She has no-one to turn to, she’s so over her head. The only person that she knows that could maybe help is Sam Jackson’s character. And then it becomes basically a road movie. But now it’s Sam and Geena’s daughter on the road. That’s my treatment.” – Renny HarlinMoviehole Interview

BEST SCENE: As good as Davis and Jackson are, and as tight as the Shane Black script it, the movie works because Renny Harlin’s direction was on point. In recent years he’s struggled to re-establish himself, but at the time he was one of the best action directors out there. This scene is a perfect example when “One-Eyed Jack” attacks Samantha and her family. The fighting is brutal, the dialogue is cracking, and there’s also some gallows humor, such as the Christmas carolers singing off-key. It’s the best.

SEE IT: THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT is available on Blu-ray and digital download. Make this one a blind buy if you haven’t seen it.

PARTING SHOT: I vividly remember seeing THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT in theaters with my dad, and I also vividly remember friends of mine mocking me for going to see what they called a “chick flick.” Idiots. THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT is one of the best action films of the era and an absolute classic. With all due respect to Renny – doing a sequel without Davis would be a disaster. With older action stars all the rage these days, why not give Geena Davis one last go-round as Charly?

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Source: JoBlo.com

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