Is it Christmas? Check. Is it snowing? Check. Are there bullets and witty one-liners flying? Check. Does somebody get kidnapped? Check. Well then, it must be a Shane Black script. Once one of the highest paid and in demand screenwriters in Hollywood, Shane Black practically invented an entire style of action film that predominated theaters throughout the late 80s and early 90s. Characterized by classic noir conventions, buddy comedy, sleazy bad guys, gritty action, and sometimes clever, twisting plots, his work inspired a plethora of imitators. Directed by Renny Harlin 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is in many ways a perfect example of Black's trademark writing style. Unfortunately though, it doesn't hold up to his better work.
The story follows a suburban mother named Samantha, who suffers from amnesia (Geena Davis). Turns out that before she lost her memory, this proud PTA member was actually Charly, a deadly government assassin. When the bad guys discover she's still alive and off playing house in suburbia, they set off after her. On the run from her attackers, and with the help of a private investigator (Samuel L. Jackson), she gradually regains her memory and then decides to fight back. The story itself is decent. Samantha's journey of realization and eventual transformation back into the expert killer Charly, is handled mostly well, and Davis does a good job differentiating between the two personas in her performance. Most of the best material comes from the juxtaposition of these two personalities and their respective worlds of domesticity and professional carnage. Humor is abundant and often works well. The sharp banter between Davis and Jackson's characters bounces back and forth with the same speed and energy as the bullets whizzing by their heads. Jackson himself is also good, playing his character with just the right amount of down on his luck everyman and heroic badass.
Though the characters are well defined and the dialogue is fun and amusing, the characterizations themselves are quite broad. While Davis essentially plays two distinct personalities that eventually find common ground, neither one of them is much more than a generalized archetype. Jackson's detective too, though likeable, is mostly by the numbers, and the villains are expectantly slimy and one dimensional. The plot has a few clever bits (I especially like how Charly escaped from her underwater torture at the hands of the always reliable David Morse) but is overall disappointingly formulaic. In interviews Black has stated that much of his original draft was rewritten by script doctors, so perhaps some fault may lie in their interference. Either way, the plot here lacks much of the creativity found in Black's best work, such as the original 'Lethal Weapon' and his wonderful directorial debut 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.'
Director Renny Harlin is no stranger to material like this. Having previously steered two thirds of the Planet Hollywood trio of action stars with Bruce Willis in 'Die Hard 2' and Sylvester Stallone in 'Cliffhanger,' Harlin was a good choice to bring Black's script to life. Stylistically, the film is energetic and exciting but not terribly original. Harlin stages his action scenes with quick cuts, well choreographed shootouts, and an overall sense of fun. The mixture of humor and violence is handled well demonstrating a nice command of tone. Though not the most innovative or imaginative approach to cinematic mayhem, Harlin brings a nice level of experience to the material. It may not rise above or distinguish itself much from the crowded pack of 90s action flicks, but it certainly does an admirable job of holding its own.
In the end, 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is a fairly basic action film that has likeable leads and a great sense of humor. The action sequences are well staged and fun but the story and characters are generic and thin. If the plot was anywhere near as creative and witty as the biting dialogue, we may have had something special. Still, there are much worse ways to spend an evening, and though not one of the best the 90s action film vault has to offer, it's still worth a look.
Presented with a 1080p/VC-1 transfer in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio, 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' looks quite good. The film has an overall intentionally gritty appearance, but the print is in good shape and fine detail remains consistently strong.
A welcome, natural layer of grain is present, but there are instances of some unwanted noise in a few scenes, particularly early on. Some slight edge enhancement is also visible from time to time. Thankfully, these minor issues don't take away from the bulk of the presentation. Blacks are nice and inky, shadow detail is spot on, colors appear to be in line with the intentionally stylized look of the movie, and there is a sometimes impressive level of depth to the picture. Detail pops with an attractive sheen while still maintaining an authentic film look.
Though there are some very minor technical issues here and there, 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' has a fairly strong transfer that shows off the movie's frequent action scenes with great detail and dimensionality without excessive and unnecessary digital processing.
The film is provided with an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, a German Dolby Digital 5.1 track, a Spanish (Latin) Dolby Digital 5.1 track, and a Spanish (Castilian) Dolby Digital 2.0 track. Subtitle options include English SDH, Spanish (Latin and Castilian), Dutch, German, and Russian.
The audio here is very good. Dynamic range is wide and full, giving effects and explosions room to breathe while still maintaining a nice balance between elements. Surround usage is frequent and immersive with great directionality that envelops the audience in a barrage of bullet fire. Bass is strong and aggressive, giving a room shaking punch to the film's frequent action sequences.
The only minor downside to the audio are some occasional instances of distortion and minor crackles in the high frequencies, mainly with dialogue. Otherwise, speech is clean and crisp.
In the end, 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is an impressive sounding film with a powerful mix. Minor technical issues notwithstanding, fans should be pleased with the energetic audio presentation.
'The Long Kiss Goodnight' has some fun performances, great dialogue, and thrilling action, but beyond the interesting premise, the story and characters are disappointingly by the numbers. Ignoring some very minor technical issues, video and audio are both very strong here, but supplements are basically nonexistent. Fans will find a lot to like in the technical presentation and new viewers looking for an entertaining but disposable way to kill an evening could do a lot worse.