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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 9/14/00

The Big Kahuna
1999 (2000) - Lion's Gate Films (Universal)

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Big Kahuna Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/A-/D-

Specs and Features

91 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (18 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: none, Closed Captioned

"What we are is more important than who we are."

Enter the grueling, dog-eat-dog world of corporate sales and marketing with Kevin Spacey and Danny DeVito, as they pursue "The Big Kahuna". Larry (Spacey) and Phil (DeVito) are veteran salesmen for an industrial lubricant company on the road to host a small convention for potential clients. Coming along for the ride is Bob (Peter Facinelli), a young, inexperienced sales rep that is attending his first sales gig. As the three co-workers prepare their hospitality suite for the evening's business gathering, the audience is introduced to the characters, and given important insight into each personality. Larry is a long-time player in the game, who has let his slick style and slicker talk hollow him to the more important things in life. Phil is also a seasoned sales veteran, but he has begun to question the seeming meaninglessness of his life. Outspoken about life and religion, Bob defies conventional salesmanship by allowing his conservative personal opinions to control conversations with clients.

Desperately trying to close the biggest sale in company history, Larry and Phil's career rests upon successfully selling to Dick Fuller - the president of a very large manufacturing company. Larry refers to Fuller as "The Big Kahuna" (thus the title). But in a surprising twist of fate, Bob becomes Larry and Phil's only chance to close the sale. And as Bob and Larry's personalities vehemently clash, Phil is left to be the voice of reason. Will Bob's unconventional style win the day or sink the ship?

Adapted from a stage play by Roger Rueff, The Big Kahuna's style and theme is very reminiscent of a David Mamet work. But where Mamet's style is more hard-edged and exciting, Rueff's work here tends to be much more insightful. Themes based on character realization and the equalization of belief systems are a step beyond what I have experienced in Mamet's stories.

Kevin Spacey turns in a very exciting performance here, expertly delivering sharp dialog and witty one-liners… but we expected that, right? Let's turn our attention to Danny DeVito. DeVito's portrayal of the very conflicted Phil is probably his strongest and most sincere to date. During his very paternal speech to Bob (chapter 16), DeVito delivers the words of advice genuinely and honestly, which transforms his relationship with Bob from businessman-to-businessman to father and son. And as DeVito massages his dialog, Facinelli effectively rebuilds his character into a young son respectful of his father's wisdom, but too inexperienced to appreciate it yet. DeVito's performance can be summed up in two words: "simple" and "elegant".

Presented in anamorphic widescreen (framed at 1.85:1), The Big Kahuna displays a pleasing image with a good color and texture. However, the overall presentation falls slightly short of the sharpest transfers available, and some scenes appear a bit on the dark side. Edge enhancement and compression artifacting are not an issue. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is subtle, given the dialog-heavy nature of the film. But dialogue is always clear and intelligible, and is mixed well into the sound environment. The jazzy score by Christopher Young exhibits impressive fidelity and spatiality, and is enhanced by tasteful rear channel activity.

Aside from the film's trailer, there's nothing but the film on this disc. Note to Universal's marketing department: cover art should accurately portray the theme and story of the film! On the cover of this DVD, we see Spacey with a large native head-dressing being kowtowed to by people in suits. This, to me, implies that Spacey is "The Big Kahuna". Well, he's not. In fact, you only ever see the back of "The Big Kahuna's" head in this film. Further, DeVito and Spacey are smiling and everyone's having fun which implies this movie is romping good time of a comedy… wrong again. I know why Universal choose this photo, but I think it compromises the integrity and truth of this film to those who have never seen it.

The Big Kahuna is a well-written and well-performed film. DeVito steals the show with his insightful and thoughtful performance, and Kevin Spacey is… well, Kevin Spacey. What more needs to be said? Definitely check it out with some fancy hors d'oeuvres.

Greg Suarez

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