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Tis a week before Christmas, and, this being a movie by the writer of Lethal Weapon and the director of Cliffhanger, the bad guys are trying to blast our working-mom heroine (Geena Davis) to hell. The villains--the usual CIA renegades--slaughter a couple of dozen bystanders at a train station while the heroine and a private eye she's retained (Samuel L. Jackson) dash to an upper floor. The dastards follow and shoot a deadly fireball their way. The only escape is from a high window, but below is a frozen pond. No problem: Davis blasts enough bullets into the ice to make a hole just before she and Jackson fall in.

You'll find these sweet mixes of cunning and convention throughout The Long Kiss Goodnight, a sleepy title for a swell turbo-thriller about a teacher with amnesia who was once a CIA assassin. If you shrug off a few silly touches (villains who shoot everyone else dead but leave 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--her own macho twin--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 (including a Tarzan stunt echoing one of Jackie Chan's in Police Story). 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. --R.C.