Friday, May 6, 2016


It's pretty obvious to anyone who's familiar with my writing that I have a thing for strong, kick-ass women characters. I also have a thing for clever dialogue (you may not have guessed that from my writing). Twenty years ago, Shane Black married the two into one tough talking, bullet spewing, ice skating package.  I'm talking about the woefully underrated THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT. 
The Capsule:
Cheerful, pie-making Samantha Cain has a wonderful life as a small town teacher and mother.  The only trouble is everything about her life eight years prior is a blank.  That is until a nasty car accident knocks loose a few hidden fragments.  Skills that she never knew about begin to resurface.  So do old enemies.  To protect her family, Samantha goes on the road with her bottom of the barrel private detective, Mitch Henessey, in search of her past.  It turns out that before Samantha’s cozy domestic bliss, she was a thoroughly badass government assassin named Charly Baltimore.  A lot of people want Samantha dead for what she knew and what she might find out about a massive terrorist plot in the works.  But the harder they come at her, the more Charly comes out.  And Charly does not fuck around.  Both Charly and Samantha will need to come together, though, in order to save her daughter from the man responsible for nearly taking her out eight years ago.
Charlene Baltimore is, in my opinion, one of the most badass female characters ever, right up there with Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor, and Imperator Kathy Furiosa.  She’s smart, deadly, and tough as nails.  Unlike her peers, though, she also has a wicked sense of humor and seems to really enjoy her work (that being killing people).  Baltimore is a perfect name for her.  You don’t want to fuck with someone named Charly Baltimore.  You might fuck with someone named Charly Akron, or Charly Newark, but not Charly Baltimore.  She’s supremely confident and just a little bit cocky.  It’s clear she can back it up, though.  When a clueless would-be rapist pulls a gun on her,  Charly thinks he's part of a larger ambush and keeps looking past him.  Just one guy with a gun is so insignificant to her that he can't get her attention.  She and Mitch talk like he wasn't even there.  As soon as she realizes he’s just some chump, she disarms him in a flash and uses him as a human shield when the real threat shows up.  You would feel sorry for him if he wasn't a piece of shit.
Another clear indicator of her epic badass status is the fact she gets to save Samuel L “Bad Motherfucker” Jackson over and over.  Normal people don't get to do that.  It’s nice that he doesn’t get all bent out of shape about it.  His character Mitch realizes he is in way over his head and puts all of his macho bullshit aside.  Jackson manages to pull this off without making Mitch look weak.  He maintains an aura of coolness even while wearing some embarrassingly hideous clothes (borrowed from someone else, PULP FICTION style).  Mitch gets a few hero moments, and Charly would not have survived the movie without him, but Mitch wouldn’t have survived the first half hour without Charly.  The partnership is one of the best things about the movie.  Davis and Jackson have great chemistry, not romantically, but as partners.  They are very comfortable together, joking sarcastically and giving each other shit about things.  This is obviously Shane Black’s strong suit as a writer, but Davis and Jackson play it out effortlessly.
Of course, Charly isn’t Charly at the start of the movie.  Samantha’s transformation is the most interesting part of the film.  It happens gradually.  She’s thrilled when she realizes she’s good with a knife, thinking she must have been a chef in her former life.  She slips into full drill sergeant Charly mode to inspire her daughter Caitlin to ice skate solo (“Life is pain, get used to it), not knowing she broke her wrist when she fell.  When super-psycho One-Eyed Jack shows up at her door with a shotgun/grenade launcher (Shane Black must have had it left over from PREDATOR) she is just as freaked out and clumsy as you’d expect of an average house wife in that situation.  As soon as she gets her chance, though, her instincts kick in and she doesn’t hesitate in taking him out.  After that point, Charly’s personality steadily creeps in.  Her language gets saltier, she becomes more casual to the violence.  Every time Samantha accesses her old skill set, Charly gets closer to the surface.  The final breakthrough comes when Samantha is captured and almost drowned by Luke (David Morse), the man she thought was an old fiancé (he was actually her target for assassination, common mistake).  As he tortures her by dunking her into  freezing water, her memories come flooding back.  Samantha goes into the water, Charly comes out.  She makes Luke an ex-fiancé.
Charly wastes no time trying to erase all traces of Samantha.  With a little blonde hair dye and dark make-up, she goes from smiling sweetheart to sexy badass.  It’s sort of like Ally Sheedy’s makeover from THE BREAKFAST CLUB in reverse.  But Charly’s transformation doesn’t end there.  Try as she might, she can’t bury the last eight years of caring for people and being loved.  She has to reach out when her daughter or Mitch is in trouble.  The mixing of her two sides creates the best version of Charly.  It becomes her secret weapon against the main bad guy, Timothy.  He has the same unflappable charm and confidence as Charly, but he’s perfectly willing to blind and cripple a kid to get what he wants.  He only sees her new attachments as a weakness, not realizing how far Charly will go to protect the people she cares about.  
I like the way the new and improved Charly takes advantage of her secret Mommy skills.  She speed skates across a frozen pond to gun down a car of bad guys (sort of like that Olympic event where they ski then target shoot).  She smuggles a flammable liquid in Caitlin’s squeeze-and-pee doll.  As they are escaping a compound full of mercenaries, she comforts her daughter by telling her, “Oh no, baby, you’re not going to die, they are.”    
Shane Black’s dialogue is pretty fantastic.   Even the purposefully goofy bits are funny.  Charly’s former handler, crusty old Nathan (Brian Cox) gets some of the best zingers.  As Mitch is going on animatedly about having just jumped out a window, Nathan replies “Yes, it was very exciting, and tomorrow we go to the zoo.”  A couple of times the bad guys say something clichéd, but I’m not sure it the phrase was new at the time or if it was just to show they weren’t cool enough to get the good lines.  Black sets up a lot of elements that pay off nicely at the end.  Charly’s “Die screaming, motherfucker” scene is just a hair under “Get away from her, you bitch!” as far as triumphantly satisfying cinematic moments go.  

The action is pretty solid for the time (post DIE HARD, pre MATRIX).  More shooting, not as much fancy martial arts.  Davis does a lot of quick, brutal take downs and gets to be very physicalThe heroes both run and drive away from separate fireball explosionsThis was directed by the Finnish wildman Renny Harlin, who also brought us DIE HARD 2, CLIFFHANGER, and another of my favorites, DEEP BLUE SEA.  He was so enamored by Davis’ performance as Charly that he married her.  Three years earlier.  She was that good.

Also, I like that Robert Altman’s THE LONG GOODBYE is playing on TV at one point.  It’s like admitting right away that they know I'm going to get the titles all mixed up.  
C Chaka

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