The Long Kiss Goodnight at 25!
You never hear arguments about whether or not The Long Kiss Goodnight is a Christmas movie like you do with Die Hard. This is an example of just how underrated this action movie set around the holidays is.
But also like Die Hard, The Long Kiss Goodnight is enjoyable any time of year, and is good viewing for reasons other than being festive. It’s not a guilty pleasure, like it is so often described—it’s fun, and why feel guilty about something that is a rip-roaring good time?
Here’s a look back at some of the things that make this movie one of the greatest action flicks from the 90s and, personally, one of my all-time favorites.
The Long Kiss Goodnight should have been a box-office smash. Renny Harlin, one of the biggest action directors of the time, was at the helm. Shane Black, a sought-after Hollywood scribe, penned the script. Future Oscar-winning cinematographer, Guillermo Navarro, was behind the camera. Davis and Jackson were household names.
There are several theories about why The Long Kiss Goodnight fared poorly at the theaters. Harlin thought it was because of the studio’s inadequate advertising, Black reasoned that audiences might not have been ready for this type of female-led action film, and some attribute the abysmal numbers that Cutthroat Island, the swashbuckling pirate adventure directed by Harlin and starring Davis, brought in when it came out just ten months earlier.
Cutthroat Island was plagued with production problems, recasting, a ballooning budget, and a studio that was circling the drain. Carolco Pictures filed for bankruptcy one month before the film’s release. The Long Kiss Goodnight may very well have been another casualty from the ill-fated, saltwater-soaked saga.
But, thankfully, it’s weathered that storm, becoming a cult classic and getting the praise and the audiences that it deserves.
In 2018, Jackson ranked the top 20 roles he’s ever played with The Undefeated, shocking everyone by giving the Number 1 slot to Mitch Henessey of The Long Kiss Goodnight. That is saying quite a lot considering the legendary actor has played iconic characters like Shaft, Star Wars’ Mace Windu, Jules from Pulp Fiction, and the MCU’s Nick Fury.
Originally, Mitch was killed off, but the test audience “lost its mind. Like, no, you cannot kill Mitch Henessey.” Pick-up shots were done and made it into the film just days before release. Knowing this makes Mitch’s line towards the end all the better.
“That’s right, you can’t kill me, motherfuckers!”
There is so much more to Mitch than just his pitch-perfect profanity (although, it is beyond delightful). Jackson describes him as “fun-loving, kind of profane guy that wants to be this thing that he’s not. But he’s not afraid to step into the space for somebody that he cares about.” Mitch sticks with Samantha (Davis) and then with Charlie (also Davis), even though he is put through the ringer, getting beat up, shot at, and tortured.
With Jackson in the role, some comments on race hit just the right chord, providing both weight and levity. When Charlie comes on to Mitch in an attempt to bury Samantha, he jokes that it’s “the white woman seducing the colored help,” and then calls her out on it while defending who she used to be.
The film already throws out preconceived notions that a woman can be an action star, and another line from Mitch takes that even further: The woman can save the man. As Charlie and Mitch part ways, thinking that there is no way either of them are coming out alive, he tells her, “I’ll be waiting for you to come and rescue me.” Jackson’s delivery is so sincere and heartfelt, showcasing Mitch’s integrity, humor, and goodness.
Davis is no stranger to the strong female lead. She is Thelma of Thelma and Louise. She is one of the best players women’s baseball has ever seen in A League of Their Own. She is the Commander in Chief, playing the President of the United States way back in the mid-2000s.
And those are just roles she’s played. In real life, she is also a badass hero. Davis came close to qualifying for the 2000 Summer Olympics in archery, having just taken up the sport two years prior. Launching her own institute in 2007, Davis focused on fighting for equal representation and pay equity, challenging the gender bias on and off the screen. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media works to address issues of inequality in Hollywood. (One of their campaign slogans is “If she can see it, she can be it.”) The Academy recognized her work by awarding her with an honorary Oscar, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award (to go with the one she won for Best Supporting Actress in The Accidental Tourist.)
This woman is just amazing, and who better to breathe life into Samantha Caine and Charlene Baltimore. This character is up there with the likes of Sarah Connor and Evelyn Salt. Davis plays both sides of the woman distinctly while maintaining a balance of the two identities, making it impossible to forget that they’re the same person. She has so many funny lines and spectacular action scenes, and it all vibes with the chemistry she has with Jackson.
One running theme is the odd-couple/buddy film, and it is one of the most satisfying aspects. They bicker, they tease, they’re willing to die for each other. She is candid with him, just as he is with her—Sam calling Mitch out for catcalling is a particularly fun example.
“I’m wondering what it is that you take away from an experience like that. I’m sure it’s very enriching in some way, and I know that she was probably very moved by having some asshole hang out the window and go ‘Woohoo! […] This is exciting. You saw her tits. It’s so neat.’”
The combination of a Renny Harlin film with a Shane Black script is a match made in action movie heaven. It is meticulously well-written, with a plot you don’t even need to pay attention to, despite the far-fetched violence. Honestly, I’ve seen this movie probably a hundred times and I’m just recently realizing what Operation Honeymoon even was and which bad guys were in cahoots.
But none of that matters (which is weird to say about a script I believe should be included in screenwriting curriculum) because every element of the film, to put it simply, just works. There’s a reason Renny Harlin, a blockbuster-maker, and Samuel L. Jackson have The Long Kiss Goodnight among their personal favorites.