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The Big Kahuna 

click to enlarge The Big Kahuana
  • The Big Kahuana

Lion's Gate Films

The Big Kahuna is an adaptation of the play Hospitality Suite by Roger Rueff -- a very fine play simply placed onto the movie screen.

In a third-rate hospitality suite on the 16th floor in a Wichita, Kansas hotel room, three employees of an industrial lubricants firm are trying to make a big sale. There's Phil (Danny DeVito), an accomplished salesman somewhat past his prime. His sales partner is Larry (Kevin Spacey), a caustic, blunt man who cares more than he wishes to admit about the big sale. They are joined by a young, just-out-of-college researcher named Bob (Peter Facinelli), whose naivete, pious faith and Baptist evangelism are almost enough to send the two sales veterans over the edge.

The three are there to convince a potential client, one of the biggest industrialists in the Midwest, to buy their product. This man is "the big kahuna," the one they have to catch to stay afloat.

With only a few momentary exceptions, all of the action in The Big Kahuna takes place in this single room, and the effect is quite intimate, bordering on the claustrophobic. Kevin Spacey does a wonderful job as a theater actor, engaging the audience as a seasoned actor might work an off-Broadway production. He comes into the room and uses up all the oxygen, and even in the spaciousness of the movie house, you can feel yourself gasping. The real revelation, however, is DeVito. Too often the vertically challenged actor has played one pitiful and off-humorous character after another, but in The Big Kahuna, he gets to take himself seriously. His empathy for the young Bob, and his affection for his partner Phil are both touching, and his character has a range of emotion that lets DeVito shine. Young Peter Facinelli does a perfectly competent job as the slightly self-righteous young man, but he is outclassed by his seniors.

Where The Big Kahuna suffers is where the majority of plays-brought-to-screen suffer: the most brilliant dialogue in the world doesn't make a great movie, although it can make, as in this case, a good play brought to the screen. Was it Alfred Hitchcock who said (and I'm paraphrasing) "after the movie is created, the dialogue is written and the movie is shot"? While it is tempting to believe that great dialogue makes good movies, a film such as The Big Kahuna shows that the two genres are worlds apart.

Nevertheless, with two excellent actors at its center, a strong, if somewhat predictable premise and a terrific confrontational climax, The Big Kahuna is an interesting theatrical experience, even if it does take place in a movie house.

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