The Long Kiss Goodnight

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starring Geena Davis, Samuel Jackson, Craig Bierko, Brian Cox, Yvonne Zima

I love this movie. I know it got a bashing by the critics when it came out, and dissed completely; but I still love it. I also like movies like The Phantom, or The Shadow – Saturday morning serials made completely for the fun factor and the goofiness.

But The Long Kiss Goodnight? I have NO idea what the title is supposed to mean in context with the movie itself. But it has a completely kick-ass anti-heroine. An awesome sidekick in Samuel Jackson’s character Mitch Hennessey. It has Samuel Jackson, easily one of my favorite actors in cinema today. It has Craig Bierko as the main villian, and a hilarious, dangerous Mentor played to the hilt by Brian Cox. It follows expectations of story beats. Except for the fact that the lead is a female character, it’s a very conventional action flick.

So why did the critics hate it so much? The one-liners were a mile-a-minute. The anti-heroine, a super assassin that makes Elektra Assassin look like a piker, even finds her maternal side, and the story makes a point of showing that even though she DOES get her memories and child back, she doesn’t turn back into Suzy Homemaker. You wonder exactly what it is she’s teaching the kids in her school!

The wonderful thing about this movie is how the two main characters, Charly Baltimore and Mitch Hennessey, keep hauling each other’s asses out of the fire (literally). He keeps asking when she’s going to rescue him, and she keeps doing it. How often do you see THAT in an action movie? And maybe the critics didn’t like this movie because of Davis’ character being a completely unrepetant killer. She kills “bad guys” and has no regrets doing it. Violently. Threatening to revenge the stuff they do to her and hers. Just like the boys. Charly Baltimore would make James Bond quake in his shoes. According to Jackson’s character, she massively loathes herself (just like Bond does himself). Unlike Bond, she gets over it, and still gets her Nice Guy at the end.
Maybe the critics disliked this movie because, not only was the main character an unrepetant female assassin, she was also engaged to a Nice Guy, Hal. He’s not important enough to have his own last name on IMDB. And yet, in Bad Girl Mode, she went after her sidekick, while still (to the rest of the world) engaged to the other man. And not only that, but the sidekick did NOT let her go ahead and seduce him. You could tell he wouldn’t have minded, though, if she weren’t attached. Geez. Wow. A main woman character with two men on the string, and both of them nice guys, and, to top it off (throwing in the racial card) how dare she go after the *black* guy. I wonder if that had something to do with how much the critics disliked this movie.

If you switch the genders around, you’ll find that it doesn’t make a difference in how the movie works. I could see a male assassin character doing pretty much everything Davis’ character did. Make Bierko’s bad guy a simple former mark instead of a former mark/lover (hmm…teh gay aspect would have interesting, too, had Davis’ character been male), and it still would have worked. The Female aspect was icing on the cake.

And to top it off, I think Geena Davis carried the role off really well. You can tell she’d worked out for the role. Although she’s got the typical skinny Hollywood star body, she’s worked on her arms, and it’s convincing enough that she could haul those huge guns around and do some of the other (outrageous) action they ask of her. If her character had been a man, I can see the script putting the male character through the same stuff – including that wet scene in the water wheel house. It’s the sort of stuff James Bond fans live for.

Samuel Jackson plays a typical fish-out-of-water former policeman/former con with a heart to the top with his usual excellence. I don’t think he has bad chem with ANYone he’s ever been on screen with.

Brian Cox is dry and hilarious with his lines as the mentor. He has a priceless scene at the beginning, having nothing to do with the main plot, except as a character piece. His lines about a little dog licking its privates are about the funniest I’ve heard in a long time. You wouldn’t expect someone who *looks* like this dude, a college professor type, to talk the way he does. The only thing I regret in this movie is that they didn’t violate the tenets of the action movie, and let him live. He was complete fun.

The only other female character in the movie is Charly’s daughter. She’s an eight year old, angelic looking (emphasized by dressing her in an angel’s outfit at one point!) and completely unfazed by her mother’s change in personality. She’s a pawn in the plot, but at the same time, the filmmakers manage to make HER honorable and as brave as her mother is, too. Charly makes her daughter run away because a bomb is about to explode, and she’s dying. The little girl does that, but turns around and makes her mother ‘wake up’ from a near death experience, by telling her there’s no way she’s leaving her mom. It was nice to see. The plot macguffin turns out to have her ‘own mind’ and sense of right and wrong. Like her mom, in the end, she’s not treated completely like A Girl. She’s got the guts she inherited from her mom.

I adore this movie.

Comments

  1. Mecha says

    So very true. One of the few movies I own myself. Davis pulls off a pretty dramatic character shift, Jackson is excellent, so many good lines… it’s definitely over the top, but I can live with that.

    I can see a few potential problems with it but the treatment of the characters in the entire rest of the movie makes those little possible problems fade mostly away, in my mind. And the female assassin is the far more competent/brave character, compared to the die-hard detective (who is threatened with emasculation when he’s captured, but the female lead isn’t actually threatened with rape, IIRC. There’s one of those flips that people say they wanna see.)

    -Mecha

  2. SunlessNick says

    So why did the critics hate it so much? …and the story makes a point of showing that even though she DOES get her memories and child back, she doesn’t turn back into Suzy Homemaker.

    That’s probably why.

    Or perhaps it’s that Charley is the real person – it’s recovering that self that constitutes the character being “fixed.” Charley still feels the love for her fiance and daughter that she did before – though she doesn’t realise it for a bit – but it’s about Charley learning to love, not Charley being exorcised.

    And perhaps it’s about how the black guy isn’t oversexed, and turns the while woman down because he thinks it’s the right thing to do.

  3. Gategrrl says

    Rotten Tomatoes (a review site) rates it at 7.1 out of ten, which is a better overall rating than I expected, from the reviews I saw when the movie first came out.

    But I get the impression that many of the reviewers only saw a by-the-numbers OTT action flick that simply substituted a female for a male in the main role. And, yes, in a way, that’s true. But it’s much more than a simple gender switch.

    I wonder how well the film would have flown if S.Jackson’s Hennessey had been a white male, as his last indicates he may have originally been a white guy of Irish descent. That would have spun a whole different dynamic, what with Baltimore’s character being *from* Ireland. More politics there than the producers would have liked, I’m guessing; along with the unease of having a white guy being less effecient (sp) than the white woman.

  4. Patrick says

    Love this movie. I do agree that the critics probably disliked it because Charly accepted and reclaimed her past, rather than rejecting it.

    And Brian Cox is one of the most awesome actors ever.

  5. says

    Hi,

    I left another comment yesterday, but it seems to have been spammed out of existence…(I had a link in it to someone else’s recent post on the same movie.)

    Anyhow, The Long Kiss Goodnight is one of my all-time favorite kick-ass women movies. One of my favorite action movies, too. It always makes me happy to read that others love it, too.

    Some rambling thoughts on the title: it strikes me that the “kiss goodnight” bit is supposed to reference the mommyhood, and perhaps the “long kiss” part is supposed to evoke something a bit more sexy/racy. The “long” part, in conjunction with “goodnight”, also makes me think of the over-the-top, long, drawn out ending. You know, with the bad guy that just won’t make his final farewell.

  6. Gategrrl says

    I love those other posts/reviews of this movie. Mine is the least cogent of them all (*note, need to work on that).

    But it does all boil down to For Once, the action hero was a Woman, an unapologetic woman. The writer nailed scenes that would only apply to a woman’s experience within the dot-to-dot script of a wild roller coaster action movie, and yet, didn’t mire the movie in heavy rhetoric or Message about the protagonist being a woman.

    I like how one of the other reviewers goes more into the race aspect of the movie, that I barely touched upon. I’ve never watched those Mel Gibson action movies with Danny Glover as his partner/sidekick, so I don’t know if race was touched upon in the Lethal Weapon movies.

    You know what I’d like to see now? A black woman featured as the main protagonist, kicking ass, unapologetic, and without being lowered into blaxsploitation camp. Or even as a sidekick, preferably costar, with a Charly Baltimore.

  7. Jennifer Kesler says

    You know what I’d like to see now? A black woman featured as the main protagonist, kicking ass, unapologetic, and without being lowered into blaxsploitation camp. Or even as a sidekick, preferably costar, with a Charly Baltimore.

    I remember being mind-boggled by Strange Days, which starred Ralph Fiennes but featured Angela Basset as his bodyguard. Her role had some substance and it seemed to me at the time she had her own philosophy.

    I’ve never rewatched it because it’s about a man who’s recording rapes as he commits them with some kind of futuristic virtual reality device that enables anyone to re-experience the raping. That just… that was probably the movie that did me in to the point where if I saw rape coming in a plot, even if I thought it might be handled okay, I was very likely to just quit watching.

  8. Gategrrl says

    Strange Days was just on the cable movie rotation a few nights ago. I never felt the urge to watch it: something about voyeurism turns me off, but especially that sort.

    Is it the Ralph Fiennes character that commits the rapes?

    Sounds like Strange Days flops on the border of SF/Horror. And horrible.

  9. Jennifer Kesler says

    No, Ralph Fiennes is trying to track the rapist down. Can’t remember who the bad guy was.

  10. Theora says

    I’ve never rewatched it because it’s about a man who’s recording rapes as he commits them with some kind of futuristic virtual reality device that enables anyone to re-experience the raping.

    Actually, it’s about a man (Ralph Fiennes) who buys and sells recorded experiences of people, and one of the recordings he buys has the vision of cops killing a well-known political rap artist. The girl who sold him the recording was later killed, so the mystery is in finding the killer and getting the recording to scrupulous authorities.

    The rape was committed by a villain not for the purpose of selling it, but because he was a sadist getting off on making the girl experience the act from his point of view. Yes, this was a horrifying scene, but it’s a moment in the movie, not the point of it.

    The voyeurism and nostalgia aren’t presented as positive, they are presented as problems, and the critique is very much in the text of the film (directed by Kathryn Bigelow).

  11. says

    Yeah, but it’s still hard to watch for some of us. Should probably be required watching for anyone who thinks rape is a good source of humor, but that scene is a powerful trigger for some people.

  12. Theora says

    I agree that it’s a good idea to warn people when there is a rape scene in a movie, I just thought it was worth clarifying that Strange Days isn’t sci-fi torture-porn.

    I’m still torn in how I feel about the character of Mace. On the one hand, she’s a wonderful female character with depth. On the other hand, she’s a “strong black woman” playing long-suffering caretaker to a white man. I liked her, but it’s a complicated ‘like’.

    The reason I didn’t much enjoy Long Kiss Goodnight is that I had enjoyed watching a character who wasn’t about her biological destiny. Then the thing that fixes her is realizing what being a mommy really means. It was like having “Aliens” turn out to be about maternal instincts, or having “Terminator 2″ being about a single mom trying to find a good protector-daddy for her son. It works for the plot, but it was still a little dismaying to me.

  13. Gategrrl says

    I did like how at the end of Long Kiss Goodnight, they did make it clear that although Charly was now a teacher, and had her child and a nice guy – she was still very much Charly and hadn’t done away with her skillz.

    I also thought that if that movie had been more successful than it was (or was more male centered) that she would have gone back into being an action hero. Charly’s story VERY much follows the Campbell male hero’s track, what with the treacherous ex, the mentor that dies, the sidekick…there was so much else that was NOT distinctively female centered (aside from her daughter) that her maternal instincts coupled with her killer instincts (or survival instincts) didn’t damage her character much.

    But of course, once Hollywood turns a woman into a Mommy, good luck with that. Sarah Connor might be an exception.

  14. Louis E. says

    It came out on Blu-Ray last month.Still worth watching.

    Jackson and Harlin think they can make a sequel about Hennessey and the daughter solving Charly’s murder…no thank you,I want more Charly Baltimore,if it’s Geena Davis or her ex-husband the director,he’s the one to walk the (Cutthroat Island) plank!

    • says

      What? That would be like having Salt without Salt, or the Alien series without Ripley, or the Terminator series without Sarah Connor…oh, wait, they DID do that, and ho! The movie bombed!

      I totally agree with you. I think Geena Davis could still carry it off, even if she were in more of a mentor position, but still the focus. And if it still had Mitch Henessey (Jackson) in it, too. I’d rather not see the daughter character become yet another killer hotyoungthing out for revenge for her refrigeratored mother. (I know: it almost happened to the both of them in TLKGN)

      It was on cable again just a few nights ago. I still enjoyed it as much as I did the first time I saw it. Also, we bought Salt, and that was just as much fun as the first time.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Charly Baltimore The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) It’s just possible that this is my favorite kick-ass woman movie. Sure, it’s not the best movie ever made. But it was a freakin’ great action movie. Sure, some of it was over-the-top. But hell, it’s an action movie. We’re not asking for real life. It had what we like to see in an action movie: action. Suspense, chases, fight scenes, unlikely escapes, plot twists, rescues, explosions and quirky characters. Samuel Jackson was great in this movie. So was Brian Cox. But the movie was about the kick-ass character played by Geena Davis. I’ll have a lot more to say on this topic at some point, but not one, but two, cool websites just independently wrote up reviews about this movie that are worth checking out: Heroine Content and The Hathor Legacy. [...]

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