The Big Kahuna

1999, R, 90 min. Directed by John Swanbeck. Starring Kevin Spacey, Danny Devito, Peter Facinelli.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 19, 2000

The Big Kahuna

He's directed (Albino Alligator), he's starred in the Academy Award-winning American Beauty, and now Kevin Spacey dons the producer's mantle with this David Mamet-esque study (based on Roger Rueff's play Hospitality Suite) of the movers and shakers in the industrial-lubricant biz. It's an odd first choice for his new production company -- Trigger Street Productions -- but not too odd; as Larry Mann, the hot-button, weasely facilitator for an unnamed Midwestern company, Spacey sails into the film on a wave of glossy self-confidence. The film is sketchy about his background -- we hear talk that he's been with the company for going on 12 years, and the film's locale, an equally nameless Wichita hotel room (“We asked for a hospitality suite, not a hospitality closet,” hollers Larry) is as neutral as his expression. Along for the ride are Larry's aging, dissatisfied partner Phil Cooper (DeVito), and Bob Walker (Facinelli), a 24-year-old newcomer to the business. Together, these three men are trying to land their firm's biggest contract via a late-night liquor-and-hors d'oeuvres debauch that, with luck, will nail home their entrepreneurial skills and score them points back at the home office. What happens, amid much talk and soul-searching, is, frankly, not much. Larry and Phil are a pair of guys in the wrong business -- they're too high-strung for this. Facinelli plays the new kid on the block, a devout Baptist who gently refuses to “borrow” Phil's copy of Penthouse to while away the time: He's a straight arrow in Larry's side. Sparks erupt between the two, though you get the feeling that Larry could make trouble for anyone, from the bellhop on down. There's very little of a working plot to The Big Kahuna -- the trio tries valiantly to secure the deal from an unseen CEO - and so much of the film is given over to such lengthy, rambling discussions of life, death, and the vagaries of working for the man, that even fans of Mamet (whose writing the film clearly emulates) may find themselves put off. Spacey, to be sure, rockets in on all cylinders and never lets up. His Larry is a high-octane version of the character he played in Glengarry Glen Ross, but there's precious little of the acidic, desperate zing that film carried. When Larry tussles with a bewildered Bob after a particularly important ball is dropped, the scrap seems preordained. There's none of the lightning unpredictability of Glengarry here. Director Swanbeck keeps the action centered in the stuffy little hotel suite, too, which cuts the film off at the ankles. It may work fine on the stage, but on the screen there's simply not enough visual frisson to carry this gabfest. Spacey did better -- with similar material -- in last year's Hurlyburly, itself based on a play, but where that film cut to the nihilistic heart of Hollywood maleness, The Big Kahuna feels more like Barry Levinson's Tin Men on Prozac.

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The Big Kahuna, John Swanbeck, Kevin Spacey, Danny Devito, Peter Facinelli

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