The Big Kahuna

Directed by John Swanbeck
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito, Peter Facinelli.
MPAA Rating: R for language.

Review by Matt Heffernan
May 22, 2000

Kevin Spacey had quite a task on his hands while following up his Academy Award-winning performance in American Beauty. However, his co-stars Danny DeVito and Peter Facinelli have to recover from their previous, horrible films: Screwed and Supernova, respectively. Those can be even tougher acts to follow.

Lubricant manufacturers Lodestar Laboratories has sent three marketing reps to a convention in Wichita, Kansas. Phil Cooper (DeVito) is the senior man there, a recent divorcée who spends his time reading Penthouse Magazine. Bob Walker (Facinelli) is new to the company, six months out of college, and is at his first convention. They have rented a hospitality suite for entertaining potential customers, and they are soon joined by Larry Mann (Spacey), a seasoned marketing veteran and longtime friend of Phil.

In contrast to Phil's laid-back demeanor, Larry is highly energetic, and has fun toying with the naïve Bob. Larry has also developed a hard layer of cynicism, which conflicts with Bob's fresh-faced optimism and deeply-held religious beliefs. Putting aside their differences, the three must prepare for their guests, which may include "The Big Kahuna": the president of a major company that could buy enough lubricant to put Lodestar in the black.

The film called The Big Kahuna, however, is not really about marketing. It's an intense, intelligent character study. There are no speaking roles outside of these three men, who each provide great insight. The film is limited, a sign of its origin as a play by Roger Rueff (who adapted it for the screen). The dialogue is excellent -- witty, dramatic -- but it's the only driving force to the film.

Director John Swanbeck makes his debut with this film, but his contributions can only be seen as minimal. With great actors such as Spacey and DeVito performing these characters, the film practically directs itself. Swanbeck did have some interesting ideas in editing, and even short fantasy sequences for each character, but they don't take the film into greatness, instead leaving it to be just a filmed play, albeit an excellent example of one.

Spacey is the driving force in marketing this film, and audiences won't be let down after seeing yet another brilliant performance. Without the major talent, coinciding with the recent Oscar win, this film wouldn't have made it out of the art houses.

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The Big Kahuna (1999)

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan