"The Big Kahuna"
Directed by John Swanbeck.
Written by Roger Rueff, based on his play.
Starring Kevin Spacey, Peter Faranelli and Danny Devito.
Release Year: 1999
Review Date: 5/18/00
I was just reading a copy of Entertainment
Weekly, and the review by Lisa Schwarzbaum of
"Hamlet" almost had me
in tears. She used words like "fresh" and "original" and how there
was plenty of room for this "Hamlet", Kenneth Branagh's "Hamlet",
and Mel Gibson's "Hamlet" (all in the last ten years, mind you).
And then, she gave it an A. As some of you may remember, I gave it
the equivalent of an F, which made me think of when the last time
was that I disagreed with someone so badly. Well, there was "The
13th Warrior", which Schwarzbaum also gave an A- to, and I gave a
Hard Vice to. Another one comes to mind now, too...my now-infamous
panning of "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" (Austin Powers
2), which I thought was one of the unfunniest pieces of shit I had
ever seen, but many of you wrote to me saying how dumb a guy I was,
how I missed the boat, how I've got a fucked-up afro,
blah-blah-blah. For those of you who thought I was wrong, have you
seen it again? Oh my goodness, that movie is shit. You have got to
admit it to yourself, the damn thing is not funny!!
Anyway, I digress. It has been a long work
week for me over at "The Mac", and so I did what any self-respecting
man...who's single...and got no life...(insert violin strumming
here) would do, and that is take in a flick. I flew solo over to
the local theater to see "The Big Kahuna", which I don't think is
out nationally yet (it is showing in only two theaters here in DC),
but should be by this weekend everywhere. In case you haven't heard
of it, "The Big Kahuna" stars Oscar winner Kevin Spacey, Danny
Devito, and Peter Faranelli as three industrial lubricant salesmen
that are trying to win the single biggest account in the Midwest at
a convention in Wichita, Kansas—an account that could keep their
struggling lubricant business afloat. Larry (Spacey), the hotshot
of the group, is convinced that if he can get 15 minutes with the
head of the big account, he can win the business of the outside
vendor. Phil (Devito) has just pushed past 50 and is in the
twilight of his marketing job with the lubricant company; he has had
some recent problems psychologically which unfold over the course of
the movie. And, Bob (Faranelli) is just six months into his career
with the company; a devout Baptist, he does more preaching about God
than about his current trade. The whole story takes place over a
24-hour period, mostly in the three men's hotel suite, and has no
other speaking parts besides these three people.
Interesting, right? And, we've got Kevin
Spacey, who everyone seems to love and playing a role that only
Kevin Spacey could right now: hotshot white guy. Spacey has played
this role so many times that he is in danger of becoming cliché;
like his "Negotiator" partner-in-crime Samuel muthafuckin' Jackson,
you know who Spacey is during the first two minutes of screen time.
And, I never even saw his stage role in "The Iceman Cometh", which I
heard was awesome in how well he took control of the theater as...a
hotshot white guy. Plus, you've got a low budget, a really talky,
David Mamet-like screenplay ("Glengarry Glen Ross", a much superior
film to "Kahuna", kept popping into my mind), and a reasonably good
soundtrack that helps you with the emotions if you can't supply them
The problem with the first hour of the
movie: it isn't just slow, it is a fucking ferris wheel. You will
get sick of hearing Spacey talk during this film. It is just that
simple. He doesn't get to say any lines which are funny, original,
poetic or inspirational; in fact, all of them are lines that we've
heard so many times that we feel weird watching Spacey say them,
because we are expecting a "Seven"-like diatribe on why the fat guy
had to eat himself to death! Spacey looks positively bored by the
things going on around him in this movie, although when it starts,
he is trying his hardest to play annoyed and upset at the paucity of
the team's hotel suite. Spacey is good, but he can't save the first
hour (of 90 total minutes) of this film. Devito is basically
playing a straight man to Faranelli's golden child and Spacey's
go-for-broke salesman. Faranelli seems to not be an actor, but
rather, a pretty face that can smile real good and laugh at the
Spacey character's off-again, off-again (yes, I meant to say that)
jokes. Something tells me that the director knew this guy and
promised him a job in his next film, and this was the only role left
The problem with the last half hour:
preachy. When I get e-mails with the subject line FW: Blah Blah
Blah, I delete it almost right away. The biggest reason is that I
used to get all of these forwards that were inspirational in tone,
like "the next time you think you are too busy, take five minutes
and call your grandmother" and "smell the flowers, since it might be
the last time you get to" and "kiss with feeling, not necessity" and
other assorted horseshit. My thing with those was, these are great
things to do...and, that is why I already do them now! (Okay, I
won't lie: I don't call Grandma nearly enough.) Why would someone
automatically assume that all of us bastard Americans just go to
work and go home and watch "Ally" at night? Many of us--hell, I
would say the majority of people that I know--actually return phone
calls to loved ones, truly value friendships with close friends, and
help others in need.
So, during the last half-hour of this movie,
the tone turns from drama to sermon. And, the sermon--which poses
some interesting questions of the dueling characters Larry and
Bob---gets downright dumb by the end, as a five-minute voice-over
that is basically one of the e-mails I just described is read
aloud. I'm not positive, but I thought I heard mixed in with the
overpowering movie theater air conditioning were some groans that
"being overweight just means that there is more of you to love"
didn't need to be verbalized, nor did "dance, even if the only place
you can do it is in your living room alone."
Hmm. There are a couple of good lines in
the last half-hour, but this movie is definitely for the kind of
person that puts Successories pictures up in their office cubicle.
You know, the ones where there is a team of guys rowing a boat, and
in big, bold letters at the bottom, "Motivation" is imprinted. Or a
bald eagle is flying through a perfect blue sky, and at the bottom
of the $175 dollar print appears "Imagination." At the bottom of
that one, the sentence reads: "imagine that you can't actually
think for yourself--don't worry, we can do it for you, and rob your
sorry ass blind in the process."
Comments? Drop me a line at
Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$X.XX Show": This price
changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently,
it is the $9.50 Show. While not technically perfect, this is a
movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.
"Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca",
but you'll have a great time watching. The $9.50 Show won't win any
Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see
"Matinee": An average movie
that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.
Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about
yourself. A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave
the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that
Lakers game last night?"
"Rental": This rating
indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your
friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one." Mostly forgettable, you
couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to
watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the
video store was out of copies of "Ronin." If you can, see this
movie for free. This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a
"Hard Vice": This rating is
the bottom of the barrel. A movie that only six other human beings
have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen. A Shannon
Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every
one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a
movie. Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or
"Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this
movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!
(Warning: strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard