KINGPIN (1996)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 53 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Crude Sex-Related Humor and a Drug Scene

Kingpin poster

Directed by: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly

Written by: Barry Fanaro, Mort Nathan

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid, Vanessa Angel, Bill Murray, Chris Elliot, William Jordan, Lin Shaye

The Farrelly brothers are known for their earlier comedies. DUMB AND DUMBER is one of the funniest films of the 90’s and I would argue that THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY is on the same level of that Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels flick. Between both of those well-known celebrated films, the Farrellys directed a project that has become a underseen gem of theirs. They may not have written it, but they did direct it and the script is more than worthy of the brothers names being attached. KINGPIN is a crude, silly, and thoroughly enjoyable sports comedy that blends plenty of different types of jokes together. It’s not high art or one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, but I had a really good time watching this film. I laughed a lot and by the conclusion (which did surprise me), I walked away grinning.

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Roy Munson has had the gift of bowling in his blood from childhood. Trained by his father, the young (albeit naïve) Roy wins the state championship against a snooty rival bowler, Ernie McCracken. After being scammed into a hustle gone wrong by Ernie, Roy loses his bowling hand and winds up wasting 17 years of his life as a washed-up, broke, has-been athlete. Out trying to make a cheap buck, Roy spots budding talent in the Amish closeted-bowler Ishmael Boorg. With an all-star bowling tournament on the horizon that boasts a prize of one million dollars, Roy takes the innocent Ishmael under his wing on a road trip to Reno to enter the competition. Along their way, the two encounter plenty of different colorful characters including: intimidating thugs, a beautiful girl named Claudia, and an unwelcome face from Roy’s past.

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KINGPIN is sort of in the same vein as Weird Al’s UHF. It uses the go-for-broke, throw everything at the wall and see what sticks method. Luckily, a majority of the jokes hit. There are a number of punch lines that miss the mark and one that downright didn’t belong in the film. Even in the not nearly as funny moments, things still work due to the interesting characters. Woody Harrelson takes the lead role as Roy and revels in the loser personality of this washed-up professional that begins to have a change of heart thanks to Ishmael. Speaking of which, Randy Quaid is hit-or-miss as Ishmael. He’s downright hilarious in some scenes as he sinks into some all sorts of sinning (all rationalized as being for the greater good), but also takes the dummy shtick too far during some moments (e.g. him constantly mistaking Roy’s last name throughout the entire movie).

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Vanessa Angel is a good as a genuinely caring friend to Ishmael and begrudging love interest for Roy. Chris Elliot and Lin Shaye also make brief, but disgustingly memorable appearances. The real standout besides Harrelson would be Bill Murray as the Roy’s old nemesis, Ernie McCracken. Donning one of the worst comb-overs in movie history, Murray is clearly having an absolute blast playing the villain for a change. He’s hatable on all levels and reserves a spot as one of the most despicable dickheads to ever grace film history.

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The biggest issue that detracts from some of the entertainment in KINGPIN doesn’t involve some lame jokes that don’t quite work. It’s actually the long running time. Some parts of the film could have definitely been glossed over or cut out altogether for a more tight running time. Credit where credit is due, the story really picks up the pace in the last 50 minutes. I really liked how the conclusion played itself out too. The last scenes involving every character were very fitting. The ending also surprised me on a few levels that I didn’t predict. I was completely satisfied by the final 10 minute wrap-up.

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KINGPIN is far from the Farrelly brothers best movie. That accomplishment lies between DUMB AND DUMBER and THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY. It doesn’t deserve the fate of being mostly forgotten that has befallen it though. This is a movie that I would highly recommend for a group of friends gathered with pizza and beer. It’s a highly entertaining sports comedy that does surprise on some levels and goes to outrageous lengths to get a laugh. Some of the jokes don’t work, but the majority of them do. The pacing can be a little slow in the first hour, but it never lost my interest and got significantly more enjoyable in the second half. In the end, I do recommend KINGPIN as a ridiculous comedy that revolves around the cut-throat world of bowling. Before DODGEBALL or TALLADEGA NIGHTS, there was KINGPIN and it’s very much worth remembering.

Grade: B

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