One You Might've Missed #11: The Big Kahuna


by: Brad Sturdivant

Finding diamonds in the rough is a wonderful feeling, but in order to do so, you usually have to watch a lot of bad movies. takes the pain away by recommending a movie that you may have never heard of, or missed when it first came out.

When Kevin Spacey was getting nominated for everything and winning Oscars back in the late 90’s, he took a break from his usual award fare and did a very small drama called THE BIG KAHUNA.  It came and went at the theaters and barely made a sound on DVD.  To put it mildly, it didn’t exactly have broad appeal and without the backing of a major studio, it never had a chance to catch on with the general population.  Unfortunately, few people have had a chance to watch this wonderful little film and its subject matter hasn’t been addressed since.

Big Kahuna

There are really two things you need to know about this film.  First, it’s a dialogue only film with three characters and we never leave their hotel room.  They don’t interact with anyone else and everything that happens, takes place outside their hotel room and then they talk about it.  Second, the prevailing subject matter is the religion of one of the characters and the choices he has to make.

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Phil (Danny Devito), Larry (Kevin Spacey) and Bob (Peter Facinelli) are industrial lubricant salesmen who are attending a big conference and trying to make a sale to a big, potential client, otherwise referred to as the “Big Kahuna”.  Each of these guys are at different stages in their professional careers.  Bob is just starting out in the business world, Larry is at the top of his game and Phil’s career is winding down (obviously paralleling each actor’s acting career).  Each of them have different takes on how to land the Big Kahuna, but things get interesting when Bob mentions that he had a conversation with him about religion.  Obviously, sales and religion don’t mix, so Larry makes a strong case against mentioning religion again.  But Bob is torn between following Larry’s lead and following his heart, which tells him to witness to the Big Kahuna.

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So, right off the bat we touch on a very sensitive subject.  Even if you get past the debate of religion, you have the sub-debate of whether or not it’s appropriate to witness in today’s society or, in this case, while at your place of employment.  But the underlying themes don’t stop there.  Each character has something they’re dealing with and a demon they’re fighting which causes them to explore the motivations they have for doing what they’re doing.  This is not a movie to have on while you’re cleaning the house, this is a film to sit down and concentrate on because it’s going to make you think.

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One remarkable thing about THE BIG KAHUNA is the pressure director John Swanbeck puts on all of his actors.  Everything is revealed to the camera and the actors don’t have any quick editing or special effects to hide their mistakes.  Surprisingly, Peter Facinelli manages to hold his own against Spacey and Devito.  I say “surprisingly” because the only other movie I had seen him in was CAN’T HARDLY WAIT, which was significantly different than this film.  The best performance came from Devito, who gave Phil a depth that we don’t often see in film.  He was the moderator between Bob and Larry and served as the voice of reason throughout.  But everyone had a tough part to play and all three actors pulled it off.

If you like monologues or “actor movies”, this is a film you should take the time to watch.  And if you watch it with someone else, be prepared for the debate it’s going to spark.  Religion is always a sensitive subject, but THE BIG KAHUNA manages to give three sides to the topic very efficiently and it turns out to be wonderful to watch.

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