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With: Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito, Peter Facinelli, Paul Dawson
Written by: Roger Rueff, based on his play
Directed by: John Swanbeck
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 90
Date: 09/16/1999

The Big Kahuna (2000)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Suite Nothings

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I suppose I can't have my cake and eat it too. After complaining about hoards of stupid movies with bad photography, bad cutting, and bad dialogue, I finally get a movie, called The Big Kahuna, with interesting photography, interesting cutting, and interesting dialogue, and yet it's still not very good.

The Big Kahuna is a new ultra-low budget movie that has the good fortune to be graced by the presences of Kevin Spacey and Danny DeVito, their first collaboration since L.A. Confidential (1997). The movie is based on a play called Hospitality Suite by Roger Rueff and directed by first timer John Swanbeck. It's one of those all-on-one-set plays where a handful of characters go through major life-changes during a single day that usually stretches late into the night. In this case, our heroes, plus young up-and-comer Peter Facinelli, are industrial lubricant salesmen who are entertaining potential clients in a hotel suite.

The movie was shot in 16 days, and Swanbeck seems to have spent most of that time concentrating on the performances, which are top-notch, and the photography (by Anastas Michos), which is as interesting as can be in a small one-room hotel suite. But what's missing is more elusive.

The story begins with DeVito talking to young Facinelli and giving him advice for this, his first convention. It comes out that Facinelli is a devout Christian, while DeVito thumbs a copy of Hustler magazine. Spacey breezes in. It's a great scene-chomping entrance that might have been left on the cutting room floor from American Beauty (1999). He begins to raise hell, complaining about the food (cheese wedges and raw veggies), the room, their jobs, and Facinelli's youth and inexperience. He talks about their big client of the evening, Dick Fuller, who will set them all up for life if they can land the contract. And so it goes.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with one-set plays. I think Glengarry Glen Ross is a brilliant play as well as a brilliant movie (1992). (Incidentally, Spacey was also a member of that cast, but had a much smaller, less showy role, which may explain his return to stage-salesman territory.) I think the problem comes with the material itself. In order to fully accept the characters' transformations and revelations, we need to believe that they've happened in less than 24 hours, and all in one room, and we just don't. I honestly don't know how this material could have been saved. There's no real way to break up the setting, as almost every line refers to the room they're occupying. For all I know The Big Kahuna is the best possible movie that ever could have been made from it.

Fans of Spacey who go to see this movie may get enough pleasure out of his scene-stealing to make it worth their pennies. The dialogue, to be sure, is crackerjack. There are loads of clever throwaway lines, as well as intelligent discussions on the nature of religion and salesmanship. It just leaves you feeling a bit dull and fuzzy afterwards, like unwanted cold cuts on a hotel platter.

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