A sleepy title for a swell turbo-thriller about a teacher with amnesia who was once a CIA assassin, the 'Long Kiss Goodnight' is a sweet mix of cunning and convention. If you shrug off a few silly touches (villains who shoot everyone else dead but leave star Geena Davis to worm her way out of trouble) and an underwear-and-underwater torture scene out of some lurid comic book, you can enjoy a clever tale of a woman who discovers her hidden violent side and uses it against those who made her what she was. Like the heroine, the movie has two personalities that smartly coexist. Writer Shane Black mines his thriller premise while musing on issues of identity and redemption; he also shaped the itchy camaraderie of Davis and Jackson. "Atoning for the flop 'Cutthroat Island,' director Renny Harlin pumps up the genre adrenaline and puts his wife-star through her labors," notes TIME's Richard Corliss. "But he keeps sight of the film's disquieting subtext: that we often don't know what monsters swim inside us. And if we did, we might want to start shooting."
BOOKS . . . INDIAN KILLER:
"One of the better new novelists, Indian or otherwise, is Sherman Alexie," says TIME's John Skow. His latest book, Indian Killer (Atlantic Monthly Press; 420 pages; $22), is a murderous urban legend not calculated to calm anyone's racial unease. Rage builds slowly in the heart of John Smith, a decent but troubled Native American who was taken from his 14-year-old Indian mother and adopted by well-meaning whites. Unreconciled to his new life but unable to speak a native language, and not even knowing which tribe his mother belonged to, he lives a solitary existence as a high-steel worker on a skyscraper being built in downtown Seattle. After years of brooding about his lost heritage, he begins to kill whites, whom he picks at random. Eventually he kills himself. "The novel is sad and eloquently written," says Skow. "It is also ugly. The trouble is not that Smith's fury lacks justification, nor even that all the novel's whites are pompous, silly do-gooders. The white, wannabe-Indian writer and the white, Indian "expert" professor whom Alexie satirizes are fair enough as stereotypes. And fairness, for that matter, is not the first requirement of a protest novel. But Alexie's tale is septic with what clearly seems to be his own unappeasable fury. He ends Smith's story by prophesying that murderous vengeance will not die; the killings will continue. But the world is so oversupplied with justified hatred, righteously inflaming every continent and tribe, that it is hard to respond to Indian Killer with anything more openhearted than, 'Right. Understood. Take a number. Get in line.'" óBy John Skow