Friday April 28, 2000
For Kevin Spacey, "The Big Kahuna" is far from an ideal commercial follow-up to "American Beauty" in reaffirming his new star status. It's a small picture, its stage roots all too evident, and the role Spacey plays is superficially so similar to the one that won him an Oscar it invites comparisons between the two films unfavorable to "The Big Kahuna."
But as an actor and co-producer, it's understandable that Spacey and theater director John Swanbeck, in his film debut, would be eager to bring Roger Rueff's prizewinning 1992 play "Hospitality Suite" to the screen. If you're prepared to accept an inherent staginess that gradually fades as the film progresses, you can become caught up in a drama of extraordinary power and insight with dazzling performances from not only Spacey but also Danny DeVito (who may well be at his best ever) and from newcomer Peter Facinelli.
"The Big Kahuna" was shot over 16 days in New York (plus some establishing shots filmed in Wichita). It's unlikely to be anything near a big hit but clearly was so comparatively inexpensive to make that it doesn't have to set box-office records to have been well worth making.
"The Big Kahuna" takes place almost entirely in a 16th-floor hospitality suite in a Wichita hotel. It has been rented by DeVito's Phil, a 52-year-old marketing rep for a manufacturer of industrial lubricants. The occasion is the annual convention of the Midwest Manufacturers' Assn., and Phil and his soon-to-arrive fellow rep and colleague of 12 years, Larry (Spacey), are out to catch "the big kahuna," the president of a manufacturing company, that could result in the biggest contract of their careers.
Phil has summoned a young man from his employer's research division to supply technical information just in case it's needed, but as far as Phil is initially concerned, Bob (Facinelli) is little more than requisite window dressing.
Larry arrives in full bombast, criticizing everything in high dudgeon. In his vociferous view the suite's too small and drab and the hors d'oeuvres woefully inadequate. He gives the stunned Bob, who's been with the company only six months, the third degree and then some. Gradually, we realize that Larry is working through a feeling of desperation and also wants to make sure that Bob will do absolutely nothing to louse up the deal.
Beneath a crust of corrosive cynicism, Larry is actually a dedicated professional, a decent man of principle who has never cheated on his wife of 15 years. He's a man with whom Phil would trust with his life. At the moment, however, Phil, who is going through a divorce, doesn't think much of his life. He speaks of making changes and has developed a craving for spirituality--he's thinking a lot about God.
Phil and especially Larry are none too thrilled with Bob. He's bright and personable but religious in a pious, narrow way. No small amount of humor develops, however, when a series of clever plot developments force Larry and Phil to realize that they are going to have to depend upon Bob to deliver the account.
When Rueff attended a manufacturer's convention (in Wichita yet) as a chemical engineer at Amoco's research center in Illinois, he was inspired to write this play, not based on any actual salesman or himself, but rather a situation that lent itself to exploring issues of honesty, integrity, loyalty and spirituality in regard to the relationship between one's work and one's life. The film's key exchange occurs when Phil, a man of wisdom and character, tries to open up the mind and heart of Bob and free him of his self-righteous, judgmental ways without casting any aspersion on his--or anyone else's--religion.
DeVito has moments of mesmerizing calm as Phil, which allows him to draw upon resources that prove as formidable in supplying seriousness as in his more familiar comic mode. Spacey is just as savagely dyspeptic as he was in "American Beauty," but here Larry's torrent of scabrously cynical remarks proves to be surprisingly at odds with the admirable man lurking just below the surface. Larry affords Spacey terrific range and virtuosity, but ultimately the essential gravity of DeVito's resigned Phil anchors the film. Facinelli brings to Bob a fine mix of diffidence and pride, topped with just enough ambiguity to keep us wondering just how sincere this priggish fellow really is. Could Bob actually be a slick operator beyond Larry and Phil's imagining?
Production designer Kalina Ivanov has got that hospitality suite just right. It's done in shades of safe, dull browns. It's not truly small yet is not quite spacious. It has the look of having been decorated by a conservative professional but is totally impersonal. It's entirely acceptable but is exactly the environment calculated to depress Phil and Larry, who could use a real lift to their spirits.
It's easy enough to say that you could wish Swanbeck and Rueff, in adapting his play himself, could have been more cinematic in bringing "Hospitality Suite" to the screen, but it's hard to imagine just how they might have done it, especially when they've been wise enough to avoid any gratuitous opening up. (They might have considered paring down or recasting dialogue to make it seem more conversational and less theatrical, especially in the opening sequences.) The look of the picture is fine, however, and cinematographer Anastas Michos brings to it a certain melancholy tone he also used in "Keeping the Faith."
The Big Kahuna, 2000. R, for language. A Lions Gate Films presentation of a Trigger Street and Franchise Pictures production. Director John Swanbeck. Producers Elie Samaha, Kevin Spacey, Andrew Stevens. Screenplay by Roger Rueff; based on his play "Hospitality Suite." Cinematographer Anastas Michos. Editor Peggy Davis. Music Christopher Young. Costumes Katherine Jane Bryant. Production designer Kalina Ivanov. Art director Frank White III. Set decorator Suzie Goudler.. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. Forest Whitaker as Ghost Dog. John Tormey as Louie. Sonny Valerio as Cliff Gorman. Frank Minucci as Big Angie. Richard Portnow as Handsome Frank. Tricia Vessey as Louise Vargo. Henry Silva as Ray Vargo. Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich. Albert Finney as Ed Masry. Aaron Eckhart as George. Marg Helgenberger as Donna Jensen. Cherry Jones as Pamela Duncan. Peter Coyote as Kurt Potter. Shane West as Ryan. Jodi Lyn O'Keefe as Ashley. Marla Sokoloff as Maggie. Richard Schiff as Gym coach. Aaron Paul as Floyd. Chris Klein as Kelley. Leelee Sobieski as Samantha. Josh Hartnett as Jasper. Michael Rooker as Jasper's father. Roshan Seth as Gustad Noble. Om Puri as Ghulam. Soni Razdan as Dilnavaz Noble. Naseeruddin Shah as Jimmy Bilimoria. Margherita Buy as Caterina. Silvio Orlando as Ernesto. Carolina Freschi as Teresa. Alessandro di Natale as Gabriele. Billy Crudup as Fielding Pierce. Jennifer Connelly as Sarah Williams. Janet McTeer as Caroline Pierce. Hal Holbrook as Isaac Green. Cameron Van Hoy as Stevie. Mischa Barton as Rocky. Burt Reynolds as Daniel Bender. Adam Farrar as Wheelchair Man. Nancho Novo as Max. Cayetana Guillen Cuervo as Monica. Ingrid Rubio as Yeye. Beatriz Santiago as Maria. Gustavo Salmeron as Alberto. Mohsen Ramezani as Mohammad. Hossein Mahjub as Hashem. Salime Feizi as Granny. Elham Sharim as Hanyeh. Farahnaz Safari as Bahareh. Aidan Gillen as Francis. Emmanuelle Seigner as Gloria. Susan Tyrrell as Sal. Mark Boone Jr. as Vic. Joshua Jackson as Luke McNamara. Paul Walker as Caleb Mandrake. Hill Harper as Will Beckford. Leslie Bibb as Chloe. Craig T. Nelson as Litten Mandrake. Jimmy Smits as Arturo Ortega. Maria Del Mar as Rita Ortega. Jon Seda as Sonny Ortega. Clifton Collins Jr. as Jimmy Ortega. Ernesto Hernandez as Johnny Ortega. Ron Perlman as Nick Everson. John Cusack as Rob. Iben Hjejle as Laura. Todd Louiso as Dick. Jack Black as Barru. Lisa Bonet as Marie De Salle. Catherine Zeta-Jones as Charlie. Voice Talent as . Kevin Kline as Tulio. Kenneth Branagh as Miguel. Rosie Perez as Chel. Armand Assante as Tzekel-Kan. Edward James Olmos as The Chief. Scott Caan as Scotty. Robert Downey Jr. as Terry. Stacy Edwards as Sheila. Gaby Hoffman as Raven. Jeanie Dryden as Patsy. Linal Haft as Vic. Russell Dykstra as Bo. Genevieve Lemon as Josie. Sacha Horler as Nadia. Alicia Talbot as Vera. Rachel Griffiths as Pamela Drury. David Roberts as Robert Dickson. Sandy Winton as Ben. Yael Stone as Stacey. Floriane Daniel as Rebecca. Heino Ferch as Marco. Ulrich Matthes as Rene. Marie-Lou Sellem as Laura. Josef Bierbichler as Theo. Sandrine Bonnaire as Marie. Oleg Menchikov as Alexei. Catherine Deneuve as Gabrielle. Sergei Bodrov Jr. as Sacha. David Arquette as Gordie. Scott Caan as Sean. Oliver Platt as Jimmy King. Bill Goldberg as Goldberg. Rose McGowan as Sasha. David Duchovny as Bob Rueland. Minnie Driver as Grace Briggs. Carroll O'Connor as Marty O'Reilly. Robert Loggia as Angelo Pardipillo. Ian Holm as Joe Gould. Stanley Tucci as Joseph Mitchell. Patricia Clarkson as Vivian Marquie. Hope Davis as Therese Mitchell. Susan Sarandon as Alice Neel. Tommy Lee Jones as Col. Hays Hodges. Samuel L. Jackson as Col. Terry Childers. Guy Pearce as Maj. Mark Biggs. Bruce Greenwood as William Sokal. Blair Underwood as Capt. Lee. Ben Kingsley as Ambassador Mourain. Paul Newman as Henry. Linda Fiorentino as Carol. Dermot Mulroney as Wayne. Om Puri as George Khan. Linda Bassett as Ella Khan. Jimi Mistry as Tariq Khan. Raji James as Abdul Khan. Ben Stiller as Jake. Edward Norton as Brian. Jenna Elfman as Anna. Anne Bancroft as Ruth. Sandra Bullock as Gwen Cummings. Viggo Mortensen as Eddie Boone. Dominic West as Jasper. Diane Ladd as Bobbie Jean. Elizabeth Perkins as Lily. Steve Buscemi as Cornell. Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman. Willem Dafoe as Donald Kimball. Jared Leto as Paul Allen. Reese Witherspoon as Evelyn Williams. Samantha Mathis as Courtney Rawlinson. Chloe Sevigny as Jean. Damian Delgado as Topiltzin/Tomas. Jose Carlos Rodriguez as Fray Diego. Elpidia Carrillo as Tecuichpo/Don~a Isabel. In~aki Aierra as Hernando Cortes. Kevin Spacey as Larry. Danny DeVito as Phil. Peter Facinelli as Bob.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times