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Keys to Success: Peter Facinelli (left) and Kevin Spacey work out their sales pitch in 'The Big Kahuna.'

Title Wave

A fine cast and quirky title can't hide lapses in 'The Big Kahuna'

By Richard von Busack

IT'S A GOOD RULE OF THUMB to be wary of a low-profile film starring an interesting cast assembled under a bizarre title. Remember Queen's Logic? Or Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead? Kevin Spacey and Danny DeVito star in The Big Kahuna; oddly, it's DeVito who makes the stronger impression. He delivers a terrific speech about the nature of honesty right at the end of this on-again, off-again film.

A trio of industrial-lubrication salesmen--Phil (DeVito), Larry (Spacey) and young Bob (Peter Facinelli)--meet at the hospitality suite in the best hotel in Wichita. They're in Kansas to land a client visiting a convention. Unfortunately, their quarry gets away when it turns out that Bob is more interested in witnessing for his Christian beliefs than in bringing home the sale. The rest of the drama consists of a judicious argument between evangelical Christianity and a natural, implicitly Christian morality--all too neat and tidy, really.

Director John Swanbeck works from Roger Rueff's play Hospitality Suite, but The Big Kahuna is little more than a filmed play. And it's a little play, stunted from trying to grow in the shadow of David Mamet. The coarseness of the salesmen's talk seems all the more gratuitous when the play gets pious, and it gets very pious indeed. The Big Kahuna tries to hide the unignorable fact that evangelical Christianity has been used as a sales technique for decades; who could number the salespeople who have reconciled their faith with the demands of commerce? Thus Bob's qualms about mixing sales and religion seem hard to believe. Spacey, looking gaunt, coasts through The Big Kahuna, which in the end may be little more than an unusually thoughtful form of sales-training film.

The Big Kahuna (R; 90 min.), directed by John Swanbeck, written by Roger Rueff, based on his play, photographed by Anastas N. Michos and starring Danny DeVito and Kevin Spacey, opens Thursday at the Nickelodeon in Santa Cruz.

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From the May 17-24, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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