The Big Kahuna

dir John Swanbeck scr Roger Rueff
with Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito, Peter Facinelli, Paul Dawson
00/US 3 out of 5 stars

Review by Rich Cline
I'm not familiar with Rueff's stage play Hospitality Suite, but I suspect he did very little in adapting it for the cinema. There are only three characters, basically one set, lots of dialog and a very obvious message at the end. It's not bad ... but there's very little here that wouldn't be much more effective in live theatre.

Larry, Phil and Bob (Spacey, DeVito and Facinelli) are industrial lubricant salesmen at a convention in Wichita. They represent three phases of salesmen: Bob is the newbie, just married, full of moral uprightness and naive optimism; Larry is a gung ho salesman--fast talking, high energy, worryingly good at his job; and Phil has just survived the end of his marriage and with a worldly wisdom doesn't take his work that seriously anymore. Their main task in Wichita is to sign up an important client--the big kahuna--who's proving rather elusive.

This is definitely an actors' film, as it consists of nothing but talking--sharp, funny, insightful dialog. Spacey spews his out with vigour and verve, keeping us laughing and keeping the other two guys on their toes. Facinelli does his usual one-expression performance, which fits the character quite well. And DeVito walks away with the film, since his is easily the most interesting role. As the "plot" gets under the surface, it does give us a lot to think about, even if it's all extremely contrived. Besides the fact that this is less a film than a filmed play, there are a few uneven directoral choices that include cheesy fantasy sequences and unsubtle music, most notably Baz Luhrmann's Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen). There are some strong messages about the difference between honesty and marketing, building character, living with regret, and so on. But you can't help but feel that the filmmakers violate the very statement they're trying to make.

[strong themes, language] 30.Oct.00
US release 28.Apr.00; UK release Mar.01

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall