Samantha Caine (Geena Davis) has suffered a bad case of memory loss: everything from before about eight years ago she has no recollection of, only that she woke up in a battered state and two months pregnant. She has not allowed this to hold her back, however, and nowadays makes a comfortable living bringing up her daughter Caitlin (Yvonne Zima) and working as a schoolteacher in this quiet smalltown near the Canadian border. However, what if there were to be something that triggered an inkling of her past life? What if there was a very dramatic reason for her existence that will only now come to light?
The Long Kiss Goodnight was part of a brief and not particularly successful attempt to turn Geena Davis into an action heroine, and while it did better than Cutthroat Island it was still nothing that gave the likes of Joel Silver or Jerry Bruckheimer sleepless nights. It was taken from a Shane Black script, and a highly expensive one at that, one of the last he had produced before going quiet in the moviemaking world until his comeback with cult favourite Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and with its wisecracks and plentiful action sequences that defied all logic, this very much fit into the writer's template.
Why it didn't quite take off with the public is not clear, but it proved to have a longer shelf life than that initial muted reaction might have indicated, and many have confessed to having a soft spot for its ludicrous contrivances and a line in wit that says, it's OK, you don't have to take this straight to enjoy it, in fact it's better that you don't. As with many in this genre, although you might not catch on at first, this was a buddy movie, with those buddies being Davis and Samuel L. Jackson who played the seedy but loveable (not an easy combination to pull off) private eye who Samantha has hired as something of a last resort to get to the heart of her identity mysteries.
But before he can report back to her with a crucial piece of information about who she really is, Samantha is interrupted at home by a raging psychopath who does his best to kill her off, and her family too if he can. This is where some kind of instinct kicks in, and she suddenly becomes very capable when fending off a madman with a shotgun, so deft that she manages to disarm him, knock him out with a well-placed lemon meringue pie, and then break his neck - just to be sure. If you haven't realised by now, she has had tutoring in bumping people off, and she's damn good at it (well, it's nice to have a talent), but who could she possibly have been before eight years ago that would have made such abilities necessary?
To find that out she must put aside her mom persona and revert back to the killing machine one, especially if she wants to survive, but Black and director Renny Harlin noted how unnatural her rediscovered assassin's techniques were, and frankly how masculine. When Samantha turns back into the murderous Charly (we know she has because of her new, self-applied hairdo and panda-eyed makeup) she rejects all that lovey-dovey, look after the little ones stuff and makes up her mind to be the tough as nails heroine, but that's not enough. What she now must do is strike a balance between those sides of her personality and embrace her maternal instincts, and do it fast because the baddies have kidnapped Caitlin. Not only that, but she must engage in a lot of banter with Jackson, as without that this would be joyless indeed, but with it strikes a self-aware note of how silly it is, yet how amusing that can be. Music by Alan Silvestri.