An English Professor tries to deal with his wife leaving him, the arrival of his editor who has been waiting for his book for seven years, and the various problems that his friends and associates involve him in.
On the last evening of a convention two seen-it-all industrial lubricant salesmen and a youngster from the research department gather in the hotel's hospitality suite to host a delegates party. The main aim is to get the business of one particular big fish. When it becomes apparent that it is the lad who has developed a direct line to the guy, his strong religious beliefs bring him into sharp conflict with his older and more cynical colleagues. Written by
Jeremy Perkins <email@example.com>
Though essentially little more than a stage bound version of the play, `Hospitality Suite,' the film entitled `The Big Kahuna' earns distinction for its sharply delineated characters and the finely wrought performances of its three main actors. In fact, the stage origins of the film are evident in the fact that the action rarely extends beyond a single set a hotel suite in Wichita, Kansas in which three salesman are gathered for a convention and the fact that only four people are even assigned speaking parts (and even the fourth is a mere walk-on bellboy). All the other people we see serve as a kind of silent backdrop before which the three principal players enact their complex personal drama.
Kevin Spacey, in a truly brilliant performance, plays Larry, a middle-aged, sardonic salesman who sees life strictly from the perspective of a hardcore cynic and who, consequently, runs roughshod over his two business associates with his acerbic wit and hardnosed bluntness. In total contrast is Bob (Peter Facinelli), a 20-something neophyte to the selling business, a sincere, well-intentioned, but hopelessly naïve born-again Christian, who has trouble separating his career as a salesman from his felt need to fulfill the Biblical edict to go out among men and spread the Good News. Caught between the two is Phil (Danny DeVito), a 52-year old man who, after years of devoting his life to the cause of selling, has begun to seriously question the validity of his life's work and has, therefore, recently found himself contemplating such weighty matters as suicide, the existence of God and the meaning of love and friendship. Obviously, such cleanly delineated characters could well have slid over into two-dimensional stereotypes, yet the author, Roger Rueff, in adapting his play to the screen, has built into each of the three principal figures a dimension of multifaceted human complexity. Larry, for instance, despite all of his facile cynicism, shows a far deeper side to his character when, in a quiet moment in which Phil pours his heart out to him, he offers his buddy the hand of genuine compassion and friendship. We discover that the often-bitter tone Larry displays to the world is just a façade, a cover-up for the void that lies deep within his own troubled psyche. Similarly, Rueff avoids the common trap of reducing the devout Christian character to the customary level of a mindless buffoon. Although we sense that Bob too uses his Christianity as a way of ordering his life - thereby avoiding the messy ugliness that a more freethinking life often requires - yet, Rueff merely implies that Bob has some growing up to do, not that his belief system must itself be jettisoned. And Phil, caught between these two worldviews, provides, out of his own confused weakness, the voice of reasoned sanity that helps Larry and Bob come to a final understanding and mutual appreciation of each other. He sees Larry plainly for who he is, yet Phil knows that this is the person who means more to him than anyone else in the world. Similarly, though he somewhat admires and respects Bob's sincere devotion to his Christian principles, Phil knows that Bob has a long way to go before he becomes a true `man of character.'
`The Big Kahuna' does not provide big laughs, though the sardonic wit often strikes a deep chord in the audience. The film may also seem claustrophobic to those who demand more movement from their movies. The dialogue, however, is consistently sharp and incisive, even though Phil's final speech borders a bit on the pedantic. (At this point, Phil's function as the author's mouthpiece becomes a bit heavy-handed to say the least). Nevertheless, for those in search of a fine character study, driven by strong performances and insightful observations about human nature, `The Big Kahuna' is definitely worth checking out.
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