Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid, and Vanessa Angel in Kingpin (1996)


(director: Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly; screenwriters: Barry Fanaro/Mort Nathan; cinematographer: Mark Irwin; editor: Christopher Greenbury; music: Freedy Johnston; cast: Woody Harrelson (Roy Munson), Randy Quaid (Ishmael), Vanessa Angel (Claudia), Bill Murray (Ernie McCracken), Chris Elliott (the Gambler), Rob Moran (Stanley Osmanski), Lin Shaye (Roy’s Landlady); Runtime: 113; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Brad Krevoy/Steve Stabler/Bradley Thomas; MGM; 1996)

“I found the sleazy comedy more tedious than watching an actual bowling match.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Farrelly Brothers’ (“Shallow Hall”/”There’s Something About Mary”/”Dumb and Dumber”) raunchy comedy has only one dubious thing going for it: its unrelenting nastiness. If that sort of shtick makes you laugh out loud, then this road/odd-couple buddy comedy set in a bowling environment might be right up your alley. It’s written by TV sitcom writers Barry Fanaro and Mort Nathan, seemingly for an audience that is dumb enough to bite at all the lowbrow gags; they make every character cartoonish, unlikable and shallow. I found the sleazy comedy more tedious than watching an actual bowling match. There are pratfalls, bad sight gags, pitiful jokes about the hero’s missing hand, and a variety of gross-out jokes about ugly broads, big tits, bimbos, bad-teeth, and the naivety of the Amish. All the yuks were crude, none were witty. The film never gets out of the gutter.

Roy Munson (Woody Harrelson), of Ocelot, Iowa, is taught bowling by his pushy father in 1969. By 1979 he’s good enough a bowler to leave his small-town to enter the Iowa State Odor Eaters Championship and win it. His promising career in tenpin comes to a sudden end when he hooks up with mean-spirited, wig wearing, con artist Ernie McCracken (Bill Murray), who after losing that tournament partners with Roy as hustlers in a redneck bowling alley. Caught hustling a redneck bowler garbed in fake priestly garb, Big Ernie splits to leave Roy alone to face the raging vic and his thuggish boys. They grind off his right hand and ruin his bowling career. Seventeen years later the once cocky and upbeat Roy is pictured as a bum-like and alcoholic broken-down salesman of bowling supplies, who wears either a hook or a rubber prosthetic hand, and is so low on funds he’s forced to screw his disgusting landlady to pay the rent and then go into a puking spell. Roy lights up with hope for the first time in ages when he meets by accident oafish, simpleton, blond wig wearing, Amish farmer Ishmael (Randy Quaid), someone with a natural talent and secret passion for bowling, knocking down strikes in the local bowling alley and takes him on as a protégé. They leave the Amish community of Lancaster, Pennsylvania for a $1 million winner-take-all bowling competition in Reno, Nevada. On the way, they stop only to pick up the big boobed mini-skirted Claudia (Vanessa Angel), the ‘personal companion’ of a gangster hustler (Rob Moran) they just had a bad encounter with. It rips off the trajectory of The Color of Money, and has the Vanessa Angel character play the familiar part of the street-smart hooker with a heart-of-gold.

The story never comes quite together in this clunky and tasteless comedy. But Bill Murray as the insincere, sleazebag, and villainous bowler gives it some pep, and the background music is not bad. It features such groups and singing acts as Randy Newman, Simon & Garfunkel, the Rascals, the Trammps, Red Eye, the Strangegloves and Blues Traveler.