American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
There are two religions in America, one spiritual, one secular. The first worships in churches, the second at business conventions. Clergy of both religions wear dark suits and ties (or roman collars). They exchange a lot of business cards. "The Big Kahuna" is about an uneasy confrontation between these two systems of faith.
True believers are similar whatever their religion. Their theology teaches: We know the right way. We are saved. We support one another and strive to convert the heathen. Those who come with us will know the kingdom of heaven--or will be using the best industrial lubricant. Adherents of both religions often meet in hotels, attend "mixers," participate in "workshops" at which the buried message is: The truth is in this room.
"The Big Kahuna" is about a tool-and-die industry convention in a Wichita hotel. In a "hospitality suite" on an upper floor, three men wait uneasily. Their company sells industrial lubricants. Their entire convention depends on landing the account of a man named Dick Fuller, referred to as "The Big Kahuna." The men are Larry (Kevin Spacey), Phil (Danny DeVito) and Bob (Peter Facinelli). Larry and Phil have been comrades for a long time--road warriors who do battle at conventions. Bob is a young man, new to the firm, at his first convention. Larry is edgy, sardonic, competitive. Phil is more easygoing. Phil is the back-slapper; Larry is the closer. "I feel like I've been shaking somebody's hand one way or another all of my life," Phil says.
The film mostly takes place within that one hotel room. Yes, it is based on a play. I like that. I like the fact that it is mostly dialogue between three people on one set. That is the way to tell this story. Why does every filmed play trigger movie critics into a ritual discussion of whether (or how, or if) the play has been "opened up"? Who cares? What difference would it make if the movie set some scenes in the coffee shop and others in the park across the street? The story is about these three guys and what they say to one another. Keeping it in one room underlines their isolation: They are in the inner sanctum of their religion.