Directed By: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid, Vanessa Angel
Tag line: "A movie with a lot of balls"
Trivia: As is the case with most of his films, Bill Murray ad-libbed virtually every line he spoke
A tasteless, often disgusting look at the world of professional bowling, The Farrelly Brothers' 1996 movie, Kingpin, is a laugh-riot.
Back in the 1970s, young Roy Munson (Woody Harrelson) had a bright future ahead of him. He'd just beaten Ernie McCracken (Bill Murray) in the Iowa State Bowling Championship, winning $1,500 in the process, and was heralded as the sport's next wunderkind. Then, bad luck set in. First, his car broke down, and he needed $2,000 to fix it. Then, to raise that money, he teamed up with the shifty McCracken to try to con the patrons of a small-town bowling alley out of thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, their scam failed, and poor Roy paid the price for it when the angry locals shoved his bowling hand into the ball return, severing it at the wrist. All at once, Roy's promising career came to a sudden, and tragic, end.
Jump ahead 17 years. Roy is an alcoholic with a hook for a hand, living in the slums of Scranton, PA. With no money and no prospects, he has hit rock bottom, and spends his time wandering through town in a state of perpetual depression. But a chance meeting with Ishmael (Randy Quaid) an Amish farmer who's also a gifted bowler, turns Roy's life around. After convincing Ishmael to accompany him, Roy hits the open road, teaching his young protégée the finer points of bowling, including how to use his skills to make a little money on the side. Joined along the way by the beautiful Claudia (Vanessa Angel), Roy and Ishmael head west, pinning their hopes and dreams on winning a million-dollar bowling competition in Reno, Nevada.
Many of the jokes in Kingpin are undeniably crude. Early on, when Roy can't pay his rent, his repulsive landlady (Lin Shaye) forces him to have sex with her (afterwards, as she's lying in bed smoking a cigarette, Roy Is kneeling next to his toilet, throwing up). Later, when Roy (posing as an Amish farmer) pays an extended visit to Ishmael's farm, he tries to impress Ishmael and his family by waking up early to milk the cow, leading to one of the movie's funniest, and most stomach-turning, moments.
Harrelson delivers a fine performance as Roy, believable as both the optimistic yokel in the film's opening scenes, and the embittered has-been who exploits Ishmael's talents to line his own pockets. Quaid is flat-out hilarious as the simple farm boy who's never experienced life outside his sheltered community (Ishmael’s youthful exuberance, coupled with his inexperience, leads to a handful of side-splitting scenes). As played by Vanessa Angel, Claudia, who joined the pair as a way of getting back at her gangster boyfriend (Rob Moran), is just as hard-nosed as Roy, a gorgeous babe who's not above shaking her ass to make some money, and Bill Murray is at his slimy best as "Big Ern" McCracken, a self-centered jerk and constant thorn in Roy's side.
If vulgarity isn't your thing, then steer clear of Kingpin, but if you have the stomach for it, this movie definitely delivers the laughs. In fact, I rank it right up there with Blazing Saddles, Duck Soup, and The Big Lebowski (another bowling-centric ‘90s film) as one of my all-time favorite comedies.