Dearth of a Salesman
When stars get popular enough (or win enough Oscars), they begin to get to call their own shots. Thus we have The Big Kahuna, the debut release of Kevin Spacey's production company. Kahuna also marks the film debut of stage director John Swanbeck and screenwriter Roger Rueff. And, boy, can you tell. This is a modest little stage play, transferred, seemingly with minimum change or accommodation, to the big screen. Spacey plays Larry Mann, an aggressive, cynical salesman for Lodestar, an industrial lubricant manufacturer. He swaggers into a hotel in Wichita, Kansas, where the Midwest Manufacturers Annual Convention is taking place, in hopes of landing the business of a giant Chicago firm. Larry has been preceded by longtime colleague and mentor Phil (Danny DeVito), who has organized Lodestar's presence at the convention -- downright ineptly, to Larry's taste, with a tacky hospitality suite and a cheap hors d'oeuvre tray for food.
It is clear that Phil, who is perhaps 15 years older than Larry and has recently been divorced, has lost the will to sell. While Larry seems to harbor genuine love for his longtime buddy, he is still burning with testosterone-fueled ambition.
Larry knows how to deal with Phil, but he is less prepared for the third member of their team, Bob (Peter Facinelli), a wide-eyed rookie from the research department. The tensions in the room escalate as all three await the arrival of the executive they want to court -- a.k.a. "The Big Kahuna," a.k.a. "El Kahuna Grande," as Larry at one point calls him.
Rueff and Swanbeck have added a few brief fantasy sequences, as well as some insignificant scenes outside of the hospitality suite, but for the most part, The Big Kahuna is a three-person play masquerading as a movie. But unlike Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf or No Exit, this story doesn't have enough power to claim our attentions, and Rueff's drawing of the characters isn't all that deft.
Spacey is the main reason to watch; as always, he impresses through sheer force of talent. But there is way too little else going on here.
Get the Film Club Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.