Striking its way onto Blu-ray disc for the first time is “Kingpin,” a late 1990s comedy from the Farrelly brothers that you’ve probably heard of and seen a few moments of in passing during its periodic edited-for-television airings on the Turner family of networks. Hardly a comedy classic, but still possessing dedicated fans nonetheless, “Kingpin” takes bowling and buddies to a whole new world with its pointed jabs and well-intentioned but misguided jokes.
Up until this most recent viewing, it had been several years since I had watched “Kingpin,” and I don’t remember missing it all that much. The story is simple enough to process, and its characters are deeper than you might initially expect, so much so that my wife, who, shockingly, isn’t a really big fan of movies like “Kingpin,” asked me how it was going to end about one third of the way through. The film’s biggest downfall, aside from just not being as funny as I remember it, is probably that it feels dated, to the point where you wonder whether or not what happens in the present day should have a time stamp on it instead.
For some reason, and I can’t quite put my finger on it, the serious moments during “Kingpin” feel like more of a farce than the comedic ones. Perhaps that’s the joke, but you also don’t get the vibe as you sit through the 113 minute run time that “Kingpin” was envisioned to be pure giggles all the time. It has the comedy names to do this, but they enter and exit the film only having achieved a minor portion of their potential.
The film opens in the late 1970s with Roy Munson (Woody Harrelson) winning the Iowa state amateur bowling championship. After he defeats professional Ernie McCracken (Bill Murray), he sets off to leave home and see the world. McCracken bumps into Roy and convinces him to run a scam and hustle some bowlers, but when it all goes awry, McCracken heads for the hills and Roy winds up with a disfigured hand.
Many years later, a washed up Roy stumbles on Ishmael Boorg (Randy Quaid), an Amish man who can bowl like no other. When he approaches Ishmael about becoming his manager and traveling the country to make money, Roy is brushed aside. But with unpaid rent and local enemies hounding him every which way, Roy poses as an Amish man and finds his way to the Boorg home, desperate to convince Ishmael to come with him. The stage is set for this unlikely duo to collaborate and strategize en route to a national tournament in Reno, with a $1 million cash prize on the line.
“Kingpin” is a big film in the sense that the characters and performances are consistently over the top. Murray’s character is probably the best example, as he exhibits little care for or compassion toward anyone around him. Harrelson is about as rough around the edges as he’s been in a film, with a lot of disdain projected toward the world around him and the people within it. Quaid overacts more often than not, with his attempts at being a good, obedient Amish boy going off road on occasion and his desperation for humor culminating in a scene where he is dressed as a stripper and performs on stage in drag. The actual bowling often takes a backseat during “Kingpin,” but, again, it uses the sport as a foundation and injects it into the plot only to fuel its storyline.
As I watched “Kingpin,” it reminded me of a film made many years prior to its release date. Maybe it has something to do with the costumes, cars or the setting, but I got to thinking that “Kingpin” came off as antiquated pretty early on. This doesn’t really impact the funny moments, of which there are a handful, but it does mess with the pacing every now and again.
I didn’t mention her during the plot summary, but Vanessa Angel has a rather large role in the film’s final two thirds as Claudia, a woman dating a hoodlum who winds up running from him to join Roy and Ishmael on their cross country journey. Her character is, sadly, completely unnecessary. She adds little to the plot, is basically in the way the entire time and provides no depth to the story at all. It’s about as obvious as ever that she’s really only in place because of how she looks, which I suppose isn’t anything new for some females in some film mediums, but I kept wondering when her character was going to have some impact, even a tiny one. Alas, it didn’t happen, and while you get plenty of looks at the small of her back and the big of her front, she feels about as out of place as any supporting character you’ve ever encountered.
The key with “Kingpin” is not going in with high expectations. Do so and you’ll be disappointed. For the occasional moment where a laugh is generated, however, you’ll likely be appreciative, even though the comedy isn’t far enough in any direction (slapstick, situational, etc.) to really be all that convincing or refined.
The visuals here are fine given the type of film we have to work with, but this isn’t one of the more polished updated Blu-ray transfers I’ve seen from Paramount. Coloration is probably the best element to “Kingpin” on Blu-ray disc, while the 1.85:1 1080p High Definition image appears to be grainier and less crisp than it arguably should be. The close up shots of the actors tossing their balls down the bowling lanes are quite good, and there are moments where it’s clear it was really, truly them doing the bowling.
Don’t worry. You’ll be able to hear all the outrageous insults and profanity your stomach can handle with the English 5.1 DTS-High Definition Master Audio soundtrack. The emotion each performer brings to the table is harnessed via the sound more so than anything else, especially during moments where Murray mumbles to himself and Quaid recites his Amish ways for the others around him to hear. Natural background noise is well placed, and it mainly comes in the form of all the things you come to expect while bowling. Other audio choices are French and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0s, with English, French and Spanish subtitles in place.
Lots here, including the theatrical cut of the film as well as the extended R-rated version, plus an audio commentary from the Farrelly brothers , the theatrical trailer and a new featurette looking back at the film’s rise to cult status.
A Final Word:
Come as you are and don’t invest too much. Doing so will help you enjoy “Kingpin” more so. If you choose otherwise, you’ll be letdown, mainly because it just isn’t that funny, that well made or that worth your time and attention.