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Make My Davis

Lovely Geena Davis doesn't look much like Arnold Schwarzenegger. But once the prop department for The Long Kiss Goodnight outfits her with enough high-tech assault rifles, .45 automatics and shark-fin hunting knives to take out a fair-sized army, it's pretty hard to tell the difference. Like Big Arnie on a roll, Geena mows down bad guys as if she were cutting the backyard grass.

But first, a couple of plot conceits so dopey you wonder whether movies can long endure. As contrived by writer Shane (Lethal Weapon) Black, Davis's character is a frumpy suburban schoolteacher named Samantha Caine whose extracurriculars include making lemon meringue pie, doting on her cute daughter and shlumping off to PTA meetings. But Samantha suffers from amnesia, don't you know. In her former life, we all come to learn, she was Charly Baltimore, a veteran CIA assassin with grunge-queen blond hair and the instincts of a cobra. Good God. She even smokes! When Charly's long-submerged personality starts to invade Samantha's, the poor woman has no choice but to hook up with a down-at-the-heels private eye named Mitch Henessey (Samuel L. Jackson) and hit the road in search of her former self. Throw in a fashionable dose of anti-government paranoia--Charly's old bosses at the CIA now want to kill her--and you've got the whole package, action-wise.

There's almost no one in current movies who's more enjoyable to watch than Jackson, and he's terrific again here as the bumbling P.I. driving a wreck of a car and gotten up in a thrift-shop wardrobe of mohair hats, yellow plaid jackets and bright-green turtlenecks. A natural comic, he almost saves this mess. As tough-cookie Charly overtakes sweetie-pie Samantha and turns Davis into the kind of synthetic supergirl every fantasy-starved shop girl loves, it's good old Henessey who's now along for the ride. Together they kill wave after wave of well-armed federal attackers--in train stations, cattle barns and at Niagara Falls--while suffering only some scenic facial lacerations themselves. John Wayne had a harder time gunning down all those Indians.

The director and co-producer of Long Kiss is one Renny Harlin, who also happens to be Geena Davis's husband. Last year they dropped a hundred million or so into a box-office bomb called Cutthroat Island, in which Davis impersonated, well, a pirate. But these glamorous young marrieds are nothing if not persistent: This time they're hoping a kickboxing, knife-throwing, neck-snapping, truck-driving, rapid-firing superheroine will save the day for their production-and-development company, The Forge.

Who knows? Suffice it to say that Charly Baltimore, the spy without a memory--or is it without a mind?--really does still love her little daughter, certainly doesn't mind shooting up the place, and has the stuff to withstand two kinds of water torture as well as a cold-blooded head villain named Timothy (Craig Berko) who turns out to be--now, here's shocking news--the father of her child.

Too bad there isn't enough amnesia around so everyone could grab a good headful on the way out of the theater.

--Gallo

The Long Kiss Goodnight. Screenplay by Shane Black. Directed by Renny Harlin. With Geena Davis, Samuel L. Jackson, Craig Berko and Patrick Malahide.

 
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