The dark half

That Thing You Do and The Long Kiss Goodnight cast ugly shadows

Imagine the profound disappointment of the Geena Davis fan who discovers that her brassy and vulnerable sides have been split right down the middle for The Long Kiss Goodnight, the latest action debacle by her hubby, Renny Harlin. Actually, Geena has more than the usual movie star's stake here; she helped produce the film as part of The Forge, the production company she formed with Harlin. Davis and Harlin managed to snatch this original script by hot screenwriter Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout). Black is a 34-year-old hack who has come within spitting distance of the Uberhack known as Joe Esterhazs (Basic Instinct, Showgirls). Both score multimillion-dollar Hollywood deals for their incredibly inane scripts, because both have proven to be occasional hitmakers. In the case of Black, lightning has struck once: Lethal Weapon is his only certifiable hit as author rather than rewrite man, yet he continues to reap ludicrously high salaries for his ideas.

The Long Kiss Goodnight was the subject of a Hollywood bidding war before Geena Davis and Renny Harlin stepped in to close the deal. See this shrill, tedious, inadvertently hilarious action epic and count the reasons why the major studios lurch toward Armageddon without America's sympathy--but with our dollars. The lavish budget has bought a couple of cool action sequences, including a getaway car dodging other cars as they fall flaming from the sky after a bridge explosion. But I'll bet these diversions won't earn the word of mouth necessary to sustain a strong box-office performance after the opening weekend.

The film concerns a smalltown schoolteacher (Davis) who slowly remembers, after her car hits a deer, that she's a rigorously trained CIA assassin. Her killer instincts are revealed further when her idyllic home is attacked by a gun-toting psycho. The central plot is unfurled quickly: She's an amnesiac killer who must be destroyed by rogue CIA agents because her dormant memory threatens a plot to destroy 40,000 innocent Americans. The reason? Congress has cut the budget for military intelligence, and the CIA needs a suitable catastrophe to earn more money for its operations.

Did I hear a collective "Huh?" Even in a time of extreme paranoia about the federal government, The Long Kiss Goodnight undercuts our fears with some of the dorkiest circumstances ever contrived to enable our heroine to survive until the closing credits. At a recent Dallas stop on a national publicity tour, a platinum blond Davis cheerfully parroted the film's publicity--"Kiss traditional action movies goodnight!"--even as she shyly admitted she yearned to do a small relationship picture; any small relationship picture. She generically labeled the prospect Emma II. The long hours Davis says she spent training with knives and guns can't rescue her character from drowning in the story's hokiness. Fans will be aghast at what they see--a movie so garish and silly, even Geena Davis can't save it.

The Long Kiss Goodnight. New Line. Geena Davis, Samuel L. Jackson, Craig Bierko. Written by Shane Black. Directed by Renny Harlin. Now showing.

That Thing You Do. 20th Century Fox. Tom Everett Scott, Johnathon Schaech, Tom Hanks. Written and directed by Tom Hanks. Now showing.

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