Written by Abbie Bernstein
Tuesday, 17 June 2003
|The Big Kahuna
|Universal Home Video
||Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito, Peter Facinelli
Contrary to what its title and the box art imply, ‘The Big Kahuna’ is
not about surfing, Hawaiians or wild partying. It is instead a study of
three characters that is often keenly funny, occasionally quite moving
and consistently perceptive and articulate, as well as exquisitely
acted by Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito and Peter Facinelli.
Larry (Spacey) and Phil (DeVito) are a pair of veteran salesmen
representing their company at a convention in the Midwest. They are
joined by a new guy from the research department, Bob (Facinelli), who
is a generation younger, a lot less experienced and (to Larry’s
exasperation) a devout Baptist. The trio host a party with the aim of
snagging an important client, referred to jocularly as "the Big
Kahuna," among other things. Larry’s tension escalates to the brink of
explosion, while Phil tries to remain philosophical and Bob has an
agenda of his own that surprises even him.
‘Kahuna’ has many things going for it, but it is manifestly not a DVD
to play for its sound. The 5.1 mix is engaged minimally, with the
center channel carrying the brunt of the dialogue-driven piece. The
left and right mains come alive whenever music is added to the mix, and
the rears occasionally gently add deep background score and foley
noises like footsteps and offscreen laughter. Chapter 8 is about as
complex as the mix gets, filling the mains with lively jazz and
enlivening the rears with the whispers of a small crowd. Chapter 18 is
notable for its apt use of Baz Luhrmann’s spoken-advice hit
"Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen." It’s not clear if the track was
written expressly for inclusion in ‘The Big Kahuna,’ but it suits the
It’s a shame that the DVD does not come with an audio commentary track,
especially as Spacey is listed as one of the producers. Then again, his
performance counts for a great deal in itself. It’s not going to come
as news to most viewers that Spacey can do just about anything, but
it’s still wonderful to witness the fit of actor and role here.
Caustic, wounded, infuriated, pensive and frightened, we can’t take our
eyes off the guy.
Meanwhile, DeVito, who is often taken for granted in his solid
supporting turns elsewhere, displays extraordinary sensitivity, timing
and gravity. He and Spacey play off one another with an assurance that
makes it seem as though they really have been on the road through hell
together for decades. Facinelli is appropriately callow and sincere,
persuasive whether he’s being deferential or stubborn.
‘Kahuna’ is far more character-driven than most dramas or comedies
(even acclaimed offbeat fare like ‘American Beauty’), yet it still
emerges as inherently filming. Roger Rueff’s screenplay, based on his
play ‘Hospitality Suite,’ neither hides nor trips over its theatrical
origins under John Swanbeck’s graceful direction. ‘Kahuna’ retains the
focus of its source material – it doesn’t shoehorn in any major field
trips in the cause of "opening up" the story – but Swanbeck adroitly
utilizes the intimacy of camera and microphone. He is able to prove the
meanings of a change in glance or in breath, details that are crucial
but that usually only register in life, not art. He also explores the
outside environment just enoughto provide a potent sense of place.
‘The Big Kahuna’ doesn’t easily fit into any genre classification. It’s
far too vigorous and fiercely humorous to be considered "quiet,"
despite its modestly-scaled production. Imagine a version of ‘Glengarry
Glen Ross’ populated by characters you might actually care to meet, but
with the same on-target observations of human nature, and you’ll have
an idea of what ‘Kahuna’ is like.
|English Dolby Surround 5.1
||Theatrical Trailer; English Closed-Captioning; Chapter Search
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