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"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

Folks--

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 yourself.

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 to fill.

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."

Rating:  Rental

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

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 "Office Space"). 

"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 half stars." 

"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 Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09