At the start of The Long Kiss Goodnight, Geena Davis is Samantha Caine, a quiet, sweet small-town schoolteacher with an 8-year-old daughter and a bad case of amnesia.
Then one day it starts to come back to her — why, she’s actually Charly Baltimore, a trained counter-assassin who did nasty work as a CIA operative! And the guys who thought they’d killed her have learned she’s alive and now they’re really mad! And who’s around to help? Just a deadbeat, mediocre private eye (Samuel L. Jackson) whom she’d hired months ago to dig up facts about her past life. So they start zooming around the country, shooting shiny automatic weapons, and drinking many tumblers of vodka neat.
As he did with his hearty pirate flop Cutthroat Island, director Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger) deploys his real-life wife, Davis, as a kind of living rebuke to macho, inviting her to flex, curse, and kill with a lusty gleam in her eye. But Harlin and Davis don’t seem to realize that the results aren’t refreshingly revisionist — they’re eye-avertingly embarrassing. The shifty shamus is played by Jackson with a savvy and decency that contradict everything we’re initially told about him, but that’s the least of the problems with the silly script by Shane Black, who fills Kiss with corny jokes and sadistic villains (chief among them a stubbly-faced smugo played by Craig Bierko, whom TV obscurantists will remember from the Valerie Bertinelli sitcom Sydney). There’s also a back story involving the 1993 World Trade Center bombing that’s not worth following. Every once in a while, Harlin tosses us a snappy scene; he is a crack action director, after all (love it when Davis skates daintily across a pond while machine-gunning baddies, for example). And Brian Cox, once so wonderful as the Hannibal Lecter of Michael Mann’s Manhunter and currently so wasted in The Glimmer Man, boosts the movie as the wily old man who trained Charly to be a bad girl. Ultimately, however, Kiss is too ridiculous to engage us as a thriller yet too cringingly self-conscious to amuse us as camp. C-