by Greg Muskewitz
Coming off of the accolades of praise and awards of American Beauty, the title of Kevin Spacey’s new movie The Big Kahuna sounds as if it’s referring to Spacey. Unfortunately, not so, but what it is, is a study of personal character and regret by those who seem to be too much of that --characters. More of an exploration of existentialism and theology, the shallowness, or cardboardness of those exploring, prevent The Big Kahuna from living up to its title.Kevin Spacey is Larry, the leader of three traveling salesmen specializing in industrial lubricants. Larry’s the type of guy who is extremely cocky, unabashed, and very sardonic. His good ol’ pal, Phil (Danny DeVito) has been given the task of organizing a suite for a trade convention in Wichita, Kansas, in which they need to get a certain big client: Dick Fuller. Larry isn’t happy with what’s arranged (“Phil, we’re in Wichita, Kansas --no one cares if we’re on the first floor or the five-hundredth!”). There’s a new salesman, a young buck, a newbie by the name of Bob (Peter Facinelli), who’s worried about living up to expectation and having character.
"The stagey confines of being a play never shed the claustraphobia."
The party they throw in the hospitality suite (same name of the play it was based on) is over and done with, and the kahuna they were after was not to be seen. Or so they believe until they mention the specific name of the guy, and Bob reveals he had spoken with him. “About what?” is the question, and overly naďve Bob, annoyingly unable to simply answer a question (gives a whole new meaning to frustration), can’t quite nail it. Something about dead dogs, something about God. Phil is perplexed, Larry vexated.
They figure that since Fuller invited Bob to another party, they might as well send him. (“It’s like putting me in the deepend and seeing if I can swim,” says Bob. “No, it’s like pushing you off a cliff and seeing if you can fly!”) Larry and Phil stay up all night waiting for Bob to come back with the good news. In the meantime, the two begin chatting about life, love (“Larry, do you love me?”) and all the other typical things you can find in any other movie. Bob comes back, and to no avail, the industrial lubricants were not mentioned --however, Jesus was. (“Did you happen to mention what brand of industrial lubricants Christ endorses?”) Bob, a Baptist (I would have guessed Mormon) feels it necessary to identify with others via religion and the work aspect of it serves no important factor. And more talking follows. And some yelling. And a brief fight. And a lot of head spinning.
It’s obvious and painfully theatrical. Everything from the stiff, showy dialogue to the space restraints of the one room, to the formalities of calling each other by name or “my friend” each time addressed as if they couldn’t tell who was saying what to who. Nothing in The Big Kahuna is particularly real; there’s just a lot of ineffectual banter being tossed back and forth without anything important being said (for more of the same, see Erin Brockovich). The movie is all talk, no play, and no fun. The witty tidbits are all stagey, as is the rest, but the director John Swanbeck and writer Roger Rueff (who additionally adapted his play Hospitality Suite) act in self importance. The language they use isn’t as prolixious as Mike Leigh or seemingly pompous as Whit Stillman, but the difference between what Swanbeck and Rueff exhibit versus Stillman, is that Stillman’s movies (The Last Days of Disco, Barcelona) are an educated social commentary.
Too much of The Big Kahuna isn’t saying anything real --just that of these characters, and at all times, even when it may be saying something of any importance, feels forced and preachy. The dialogue construction is basic, wannabe biting, but the canines were dull to start with. The fictional questions posed, with few exceptions, are empty, hollow, and lead to nothing. The Big Kahuna recalls the movie and play Waiting for Godot, where throughout the entirety of it all, all of the questioning and waiting and expectation is nothing. Godot doesn’t show in the end, Fuller doesn’t either, and nothing is expounded on. Everything is built and built and there is no climax, no comeuppance, no real resolve or resolution. Though near the end, when DeVito speaks to Facinelli, the speech that is delivered about character and regret feels very real. Facinelli’s Bob has not lived enough to regret anything and has placed himself on too high a level to fault himself. When his Baptistism and self-worth, his eyes have been too covered to notice anything. He gets on a high horse, scolding Larry and accusing him of adultery for looking at another woman in lust. Larry isn’t that likable of a character, but the extreme limits Bob pushes us to, forces more identification with Larry, while there’s always the pretty decent bond with Phil.
Spacey, with his puppy-dog pouting mouth and certain amount of genuity is good like he always is. The material is questionable, but there is no doubt about Spacey’s control. But you never can forget it’s Kevin Spacey in the role; he never quite slips out, as he’s done in the past, or how Ian Holm and Stanley Tucci recently did in Joe Gould’s Secret. The favorite however, is DeVito. His character is described as the “seasoned professional,” and DeVito is additionally that as an actor. (But why then, and on the same week, or more, how could he have agreed to do Screwed?) He’s more human, a little preachy, a little overly impassive, but he is about the most real. Peter Facinelli (Supernova) is mostly okay, seemingly a carbon copy of a younger Tom Cruise, but his character is just like Limberger cheese, only there isn’t even a payoff in the taste --he just drives you crazy and you want to get away from him.
Everything else is rudimentary. Basic cinematography and editing, with the added benefit for us of seeing Spacey walk into the suite and put his name tag on, etc. all in slow motion. That must either be the “I just won an Oscar, now every move I make needs to be marked” slo-mo, or the “I produced this, so I want my entrance in slo-mo.” And the most false revelation was the intersection of Baz Luhrman’s song “Everybody’s Free (Class of 1999).” If that sounds like an insult, it’s not, but with all that preceding, it sticks out like a sore thumb.Final Verdict: C.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=3868&reviewer=172
originally posted: 05/13/00 01:24:30