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'Big Kahuna' Peters Out

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 12, 2000


    'The Big Kahuna' Talk is not cheap for Kevin Spacey, Peter Facinelli and Danny DeVito. (Lions Gate)
You can see where "The Big Kahuna" wants to take you: the tough-talking land of David Mamet, where conversations among fellow workers (usually male) are clipped to bleeding by tension, hopelessness and irony.

But the playwright isn't Mamet; it's the lesser Roger Rueff, who adapted his stage drama, "Hospitality Suite," for this film.

The difference is clear. "The Big Kahuna" never feels original, even though it's enjoyable to watch Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito and newcomer Peter Facinelli going at it with snappy patter; and even though you are left thoughtful at the end.

What's the Big Kahuna, anyway? Actually, "it" is a "who." He's president of one of the largest manufacturing firms in the region. A contract from him would change the lives of industrial lubricant salesmen Larry (Spacey), Phil (DeVito) and Bob (Facinelli) forever. They have checked into a midwest hotel to snag him and other corporate leaders at a manufacturers convention.

Larry's an exuberantly honest man who isn't afraid to lay things on the line. He takes particular pleasure in harassing Bob, a sanctimonious neophyte who's recently married and been reborn – in the religious sense. Phil's a burn out case who's reassessing everything after a nasty divorce. He becomes the sad sack buffer between relentless Larry and stubborn Bob.

The hospitality party comes and goes. The clients leave. It seems that el Kahoon never appeared. He slipped through their fingers.

But wait. It seems that Bob did .talk to him. What did Bob talk to the Kahuna about? Larry wants to know. They spoke about religion, says Bob. Not a word about industrial lubricants? Larry gets more than a little angry.

It's time to send Bob back on the trail. Call the big guy back and start talking business, Larry tells him. And this time, talk lubricants.

Debuting director John Swanbeck doesn't "open up" the play. When Bob goes off, we don't go with him. We stay with Larry and Phil.

Of course, this could be considered a wise decision since Bob is venturing out into lovely downtown Wichita. (Although Swanbeck does cut for a while to the place where Bob is going, we know we're on borrowed time.)

Because the subjects of life and existence – and what are we all seeking, anyway? – are intrinsically interesting, and because Spacey plays jaded jabberers so well, "Kahuna" is certainly enjoyable. But after a while, sitting in a darkened theater and watching three desperate souls stuck in a suite with nothing but a cheeseball, carrot sticks and frustration between them starts to wear thin. And the prospect of strolling through Wichita suddenly becomes more appealing.

THE BIG KAHUNA (R, 91 minutes) – Contains obscenity.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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