Viking Night: Kingpin
By Bruce Hall
March 24, 2015
The years have been very, very kind to my opinion of Kingpin. In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll admit I’m not much of a Farrelly Brothers fan. I won’t spoil my opinions of their other work except to say that I’m on record as having a soft spot for Dumb and Dumber. That’s probably why I was so eager to see the follow up - Kingpin - in 1996. I’m not sure what I was expecting. When you’ve been so abnormally delighted by the cultural heir to The Three Stooges, how could you not enjoy Kingpin? How could you not enjoy Bill Murray, Woody Harrelson and pre-implosion Randy Quaid in the most ambitiously raunchy sports comedy since Caddyshack?
Well, it goes a little something like this…
Roy Munson (Harrelson) is a wide-eyed prodigy whose preternatural talent once made him the darling of the bowling community. Across the Midwest, the name Munson became synonymous with “winning.” True to his father’s wishes, for one brief shining moment, Roy was the Mickey Mantle of the amateur circuit. By 1979, the sky was the limit, and life was as sweet as a certain high fructose corn syrup nonfat dry milk imitation chocolate beverage. Unfortunately success often breeds contempt. And when Roy wins his first professional tournament, he defeats Ernie McCracken (Murray), the most contemptible man in all of professional sports. Eager for revenge, "Big Ern" ropes his gullible nemesis into an ill-conceived con, costing Roy both his right hand and career.
Nearly two decades later, Ernie is still the toast of professional bowling. He’s also one of the sport’s most charitable contributors, selflessly devoting his time to hot single moms wherever the opportunity arises. Roy meanwhile, nurses a crippling booze habit and ekes out a living as a travelling condom salesman at sleazy backwater bowling alleys. His right hand has been replaced with a hideous prosthetic. His once inexhaustible well of confidence is now a gaping, empty hole about the size and shape of his old Brunswick. He lives in a dilapidated (by Hollywood standards) tenement, three months behind on the rent and two steps ahead of his ghastly landlady (Lin Shaye). And then one morning, having again found the novelty condom market dry, Roy sees his future.
A middle-aged Amish guy effortlessly bowls a professional level game, seemingly oblivious to his own talent. Ishmael (Quaid) is his name, and at first he resists Roy’s attempts to recruit him. Seeing a little of himself in Ishmael, Roy persists, leading to some not entirely amusing scenes back in Amish country, where Roy goes undercover, hoping to infiltrate Ishmael’s family and convince the man to travel to Reno for a championship tournament. There, any obvious Amish stereotype you can think of is immediately and repeatedly exploited with all the subtlety of a horny bull that you thought was a cow and tried to milk because you are a steaming idiot. I’m sure you can fill in the rest of the shtick yourself.