“The Long Kiss Goodnight” (1996) dir. Renny Harlin / scr. Shane Black

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One of the most sadly underrated films of the 1990s was the intense action film “The Long Kiss Goodnight.”

The premise is a damn intriguing one. A single-mom school teacher in her mid-30s with amnesia suddenly remembers her past life as a deadly assassin. Her past comes back to haunt her when former enemies seek her demise and come after her and her young daughter. A detective / ex-con assists her in determining her prior identity and to help protect her. Though once she remembers her old skills, she doesn’t need much help.

Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson play the schoolteacher and detective, respectively, and do a great job. According to Wikipedia, in 2012, Jackson said this was his favorite role of all-time. It’s a damn good and hard-edged action thriller, far grittier and violent than its premise would indicate. And while it got respectful (but not great) notices from critics and did OK at the box office, it was considered a flop, given its high budget.

The film was initially fairly notorious, because the original script, by “Lethal Weapon” and “The Last Boy Scout” scribe Shane Black, sold for $4 million (the highest amount ever paid for a spec script). New LIne Cinema (the studio that bought the script) was so enamored with Black’s words that … of course … had the script rewritten … and rewritten … and rewritten.

Fortunately, enough of Black’s original vision was in the final product to make it a very, very good film. Far better than the conventional Hollywood action film. However, the original script is far darker … and better, in my opinion. You can read it here:

http://www.imsdb.com/scripts/Long-Kiss-Goodnight,-The.html

“The Last Boy Scout” (1991) dir. Tony Scott, scr. Shane Black

Arguably the best … and darkest … of the high-octane Joel Silver-produced action films from the period between 1982 and 1993 (and that includes “Die Hard” and “Lethal Weapon,” which Black also wrote), “The Last Boy Scout” is a film noir on steroids.  Yes, it has Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans.  Yes, it has lots of over-the-top violence and rat-a-tat dialogue.  But … Willis and Wayans play SEVERELY flawed characters.  Willis is a former celebrated Secret Service agent who lost his job, is drowning in booze and low self-esteem, and has a wife who throws her affair with his best friend in his face.  Wayans is a former professional football player whose promising career was ruined by drug problems.  As you can predict, both characters are thrown together by chance to solve the murder of Wayans’ stripper girlfriend (an early role by future-Oscar winner Halle Berry) and their efforts may lead to a shot at redemption … maybe.  Unlike nowadays, you don’t get the sense there’s been a complete redemption of either character, but you do get the sense that things will go better.

The best scene in the film is featured here.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t include the next minute of the scene which makes the previous two minutes even funnier, but what’s here is damn good:

As much as Quentin Tarantino is celebrated for his mix of humor and darkness, Shane Black is sometimes unfairly underrated for doing a similar thing.  Black is one of the most financially successful screenwriters of all time (“Boy Scout”‘s script set a then-record of a $1.75 million sale to a studio), but because Black didn’t start off in the art-film world, some people have condemned him as a hack.  To those who think this, you really should read Black’s original script, which is way darker than the resulting film:

http://www.imsdb.com/scripts/Last-Boy-Scout,-The.html

Much of the original script made it into the final film, but the last third is WAY different, is much more violent and dark (including a snuff film subplot), and had the original script been shot as is, would have rated an NC-99.  If you’re a fan of Shane Black’s (or even Tarantino), it’s well worth reading.   And of course, the film Scott made after “The Last Boy Scout” was Tarantino’s “True Romance.”  But, that’s another story …