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The Big Kahuna

Rated [R], 91 minutes
Starring Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito and Peter Facinelli
Screenplay by Roger Rueff; based on his play
Directed by John Swanbeck

IN SHORT: Cheaper than Broadway.

A couple of things I've noted in other places about plays adapted to the big screen, compiled here for the first time: They are "places" where no-name actors can make a name for themselves if their performance is great and if the film director can figure out how to make one set interesting. They are opportunities for star-name actors to stretch their acting chops with "pure" theater in which the odds are much bigger. If the director can't make it interesting then the job of the actors is magnified. Simply, if you walk into a theater thinking you'll see, in this case, Kevin Spacey and Danny DeVito "on stage," and you walk out thinking you've saved $65+ dollars from the cost of a Broadway ticket, then they have failed. If you walk in to see Space and DeVito perform and walk out having seen them transform into Larry Mann (Spacey) and Phil Kooper (DeVito), then you've experience what would be called in the theater, a "magic" night.

That didn't happen for the two critics (female) behind me, both of whom admitted in their post screening talk that they didn't like Spacey's movies, in general. Cranky admits to no such problem and can point with great specificity to the point at which The Big Kahuna, essentially three men in a hotel room, made that transformation from stars performing a play to great acting performances on the screen. The set-up . . .

Mann is the salesman. Kooper the account manager. Both have been sent to a convention in Wichita, Kansas with the intent of meeting, schmoozing and signing up potential client Dick Fuller, President of a Company which is the largest user of industrial lubricants in the Midwest. Third man on the team, representing the research "brains" of the company is Bob Walker (Peter Facinelli), a just-married, utterly devout Baptist who has no idea of the kind of land he has wandered in to. The two veterans snipe at each other like an old married couple and vie for influence over the new kid. Both have their minds focussed on landing Fuller's account as they schmooze a roomful of lesser freeloaders. When Fuller doesn't show, both know that only the teetotaler Walker, who spent the evening ineptly tending bar and talking about dogs and Jesus to some old guy, will survive when the ax falls back at the main office.

Dogs and Jesus. A moment of revelation that hits you before it hits the poor saps onscreen. Walker, with his priorities all in the wrong place, essentially exits stage left to allow the veterans take full command of the screen; characters that have been beaten and know they will never rise higher in the corporate ranks talk grown-up talk about life, the universe and everything. This third act alone is worth the ticket price for it is here you sense all the power that you'd get from watching the men live on stage.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Big Kahuna, he would have paid...


When you're aware that you're watching a play, The Big Kahuna is a better than average adaptation. When it hits the magic button, well, that's what it is. Magic.

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