PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Roy Munson (Woody Harrelson) is a bowling prodigy who wins the 1979 Iowa state amateur championship and plans to leave his tiny (fictional) hometown of Ocelot, Iowa, to go on the Professional Bowlers Tour. He wins his first tournament, defeating an established pro named Ernie McCracken (Bill Murray). Soon after, McCracken convinces Roy to help him hustle some bowlers. The con goes badly, and McCracken flees while the bowlers they swindled cut off Roy’s hand in revenge.

In present day, a down-and-out Munson sports a prosthetic hook covered with a fake rubber hand and sells bowling alley supplies for a living, with little success. Roy resides in a seedy apartment building in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where an unpleasant landlady (Lin Shaye) is constantly after him to pay overdue rent. On a sales call, Roy catches sight of an Amish man, Ishmael Boorg (Randy Quaid), rolling a respectable game. Roy tries to convince Ishmael to turn pro, with him acting as manager. Ishmael declines the offer as he has little interest in worldly affairs – bowling is his only vice. After having unwanted sex with his repulsive landlady in lieu of rent, Roy sees a headline on a bowling magazine advertising a $1,000,000 winner-take-all tournament in Reno, Nevada. Posing as an Amish man, Roy visits the Boorg family home to try and convince Ishmael to enter the tournament. Ishmael reluctantly agrees when he receives news that the Amish community will lose their land unless a $500,000 payment can be raised. Roy discovers that Ishmael is not as skilled as he first thought, as Ishmael’s self-proclaimed 270 average is based on a 15-frame game, instead of the standard 10 frames – based on the notion that the Amish are obligated by tradition to do everything “half-again” as much as everyone else. A disgruntled Roy decides to take Ishmael home, but Ishmael refuses and decides to go to Reno alone. Roy decides to give Ishmel another chance rather than return home to his landlady, and after some coaching along the way Ishmael’s game steadily improves.

During the road trip, Roy introduces Ishmael to worldly vices. The pair wind up at a mansion owned by a hoodlum named Stanley (Rob Moran) whom they plan to hustle. When Stanley discovers their ploy, he threatens them with violence, but his girlfriend Claudia (Vanessa Angel), tired of Stanley’s abuse, helps the pair escape and they all continue on the road to Reno. When Claudia disapproves of Roy’s exploitation of Ishmael, Roy tries to abandon her but she thwarts his plan and they begin to fight, at which point Ishmael abandons them both. As they search for him, they make a stop in Ocelot, and Claudia’s attitude towards Roy softens when she learns that he was too ashamed of his failure to return home even for his father’s funeral. They finally reunite with Ishmael and make their way to Reno. At a Reno hotel, Roy runs into McCracken, who is now a bowling celebrity entered in the $1,000,000 tournament. McCracken insults Roy, and infuriates Ishmael to the point where he takes a swing at him. McCracken ducks and Ishmael hits a wall and breaks his hand, leaving him unable to bowl. To make matters worse, Stanley tracks Claudia to Reno, steals the trio’s bankroll and forces Claudia to leave with him. Hurt and confused by Claudia’s apparent abandonment, Ishmael tries to convince Roy that they still have a chance to win the $1,000,000 – if Roy will bowl.

Roy finally agrees and enters the tournament, rolling the ball with his prosthetic rubber hand. Despite all odds, Roy has a Cinderella run through the tournament, defeating both pro bowlers Mark Roth and Randy Pedersen on his way to face McCracken in the final. The two competitors are closely matched heading into the final frame, until Ishmael’s brother arrives and orders Ishmael to return home with him immediately. Distracted by his friend’s sudden absence, Roy rolls the most difficult of splits (7-10 split) but is miraculously able to convert it, thereby forcing McCracken to roll three strikes to beat him. McCracken ultimately does so, and wins the tournament. Roy sits silently in his chair as McCracken celebrates in an extremely obnoxious fashion, and remains there as the cleaning crew sweep the seats around him. Absorbing all that has happened, with his friends ditching him and frustrated at how close he came to defeating his rival, Roy lets out a loud yell, startling the cleaning crews. The next day, Stanley violently approaches Roy, accusing him of stealing his gambling winnings. Roy tells him that he does not have the money, but reluctantly blames McCracken for his hand mishap. Ultimately, the blame switches to McCracken, with Stanley seeking to find and kill him for stealing his bankroll.

Roy returns to his seedy apartment where he is surprised by an unexpected visitor at his door. Claudia has returned with the bankroll she had taken from Stanley, now doubled since Stanley bet against Roy in the final. She proposes the cash be split three-ways between Roy, Ishmael and herself, but instead Roy produces a $500,000 check he has received from Trojan condoms for an endorsement deal – thanks to his fake hand which earned him the nickname “Rubber Man” during the ESPN-televised tournament. Roy pointedly states that the money is going to be split “one-way”. The story ends with Roy sitting together with Claudia in the Boorg household after giving the $500,000 to the Amish so their community can be saved. Roy has also covered for Ishmael’s indiscretions on the road and portrays him as a hero to his family. As the credits roll, Roy and Claudia happily drive away together.


Even though I can’t bowl a lick, I’ve been wanting to go to the lanes and see what I can do. Who knows, maybe after all these years I’ve actually gotten better. Surely, I couldn’t get worse! Watching Kingpin has definitely fanned the flames of that fire!

What is this about?

The Farrelly brothers dumb down and goof up pro bowling — and gross us out in the process. After bowler Roy Munsen (Woody Harrelson) swindles the wrong crowd and is left with a hook for a hand, he settles into impoverished obscurity. That is, until he uncovers the next big thing: an Amish kid named Ishmael (Randy Quaid). So, the corrupt and the hopelessly naïve hit the circuit intent on settling an old score with Big Ern (Bill Murray).

What did I like?

Professional bowling. There are a few films about bowling out there, but none that really take on the pro bowling circuit. If you’re like me, then the most you know about the PBA is that it comes on after Sunday NFL Countdown on ESPN. I don’t think many of us know anything about the association, but ut nice to see that someone has taken the time to lampoon it.

Irony. I find it a bit ironic that Woody Harrelson, who at this time was still best known as the simple, slow bartender from Cheers and here he is being a mentor to a simple and slow Amish bumpkin. There are obvious similarities between the two and the mentorship he provides is something to see, in the moments when he isn’t berating the poor guy.

What didn’t I like?

Eye candy. Just like any other red-blooded male, I’m all for looking at a beautiful woman. However, if you’re going to put one in a film like this, then she has to be believable. This Vanessa Angel chick was obviously cast for her looks and not her talent…just like a few of today’s actresses. I felt that her role could have been more believable if she would have just given more care to it, and not just more or less read the lines.

Big Ern. Obviously, in a film such as this, the rival is going to play a major role, even if he disappears for a good chunk of the picture. Bill Murray’s Big Ern is obviously the film’s antagonist, but considering how he isn’t the one who causes the loss of Harrelson’s hand, it doesn’t feel like it. He comes off more as just a rival rather than someone who has to be beaten.

Kingpin is listed as one of the greatest comedies of 1996. That may be the case, as I can’t remember the comedies that came out that year, but in 2013, I wasn’t impressed. As with other Farrelly Brothers movie, the gross out humor sort of takes over. If you’re not of these kind of jokes, or not in the mood, then this will not be something you should be watching. Do I recommend it, though? It is hard for me to give this a glowing recommendation, but I see no reason to avoid it, so give it a shot sometime, but don’t go out of your way to do so.

3 1/3 out of 5 stars

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