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The Big Kahuna


The Big Kahuna

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Set almost entirely in a small, cheaply appointed hospitality suite with a regrettable view of downtown Wichita, The Big Kahuna concerns three sullen businessmen desperate to hawk industrial lubricant to a wealthy client who, Godot-like, may never show up. Adapted on creaky floorboards from a stage play by Roger Rueff (who also scripted), the premise evokes such obvious antecedents as Death Of A Salesman and Glengarry Glen Ross, two pinnacle works about the nobility of low-level grunts who eke out a living on guile alone. If it were possible to draw new revelations from this well-mined territory, The Big Kahuna doesn't manage it, despite a handful of witty exchanges and a performance of surprising pathos by Danny DeVito. Shooting on a limited budget over 16 days, director John Swanbeck does little to obscure the film's theatrical roots, a problem exacerbated by an overcranked Kevin Spacey, who seems to project his quips to the rafters. DeVito and Spacey play longtime friends and colleagues in town for an annual manufacturing convention; they have radically different temperaments, but both are world-weary enough to suggest the effects of long careers in a dreary business. They're joined by newcomer Peter Facinelli, a handsome and blankly pious young Baptist with little tolerance for their vices. Over the stretch of an evening, the three angle for one big sale, but conflicts arise that test their character and force them to confront larger philosophical questions. The Big Kahuna begins as a bitter comedy and settles into a more plaintive tone as it goes along, shifting its emphasis from Spacey's smug wit to DeVito's slow-burning emotional breakdown. Though DeVito is subtle and arresting in the more serious role, both halves are spoiled by Rueff's familiar themes and his bad habit of inserting them directly into the dialogue (typical line: "You as a person doesn't matter; it's what you represent"). The Big Kahuna is full of truths about the dehumanizing grind of the business world, but they mostly come from better plays.