Woody Harrelson is Roy Munson, a pro bowler who seems destined for greatness, or as close to greatness as a bowler can get. But after a run-in with angry competitors, Roy finds himself sadder, wiser and minus one bowling hand. Years later, he meets the naïve Ishmael (Randy Quaid), an Amish bowling whiz, and Claudia (Vanessa Angel), a sexy vixen with brains. Together they set out for a million-dollar tournament in Reno. Will Roy and Ishmael win the big match and score fame and fortune? Or will all their hopes and dreams go barreling down the gutter?
If you ask most people what their favorite Farrelly brothers flick is, chances are you'll get many who say There's Something About Mary and perhaps an equal amount claiming it's Dumb and Dumber – but for me, their best flick has always been 'Kingpin', and it's not even a contest as far as I'm concerned.
The movie stars Woody Harrelson as Roy Munson, who knows he has a gift when it comes to bowling at a very early age. In 1979, he defeats legend Ernie McKracken (Bill Murray) in a tournament, but then things start to spiral downward for Munson. Ernie runs into Roy after the tournament and convinces him to try and hustle some money from a group of local bowlers. When their ruse is discovered, Ernie is able to escape, but Roy is dragged back into the bowling alley, where he loses his throwing hand in the ball return machine.
The film then picks up 17 years later, with Roy now out of shape, down on his luck, and sporting a hook (which he often replaces with a prosthetic rubber hand) where his real hand used to be. One day, though, he comes across a local (the movie is set near Lancaster, PA, even though it was actually shot at the other end of the state, near Pittsburgh) Amish guy named Ishmael (Randy Quaid) who has some impressive bowling skills of his own. Roy believes that if he can train Ishmael to become an even better bowler, he can take him to Reno and enter him in the national professional tournament and solve all his money problems.
'Kingpin' becomes very much a traditional road movie, with Roy and Ishmael traveling across country and towards Reno, while hustling people for money along the way. During their journey, they team up with the incredibly sexy Claudia (Vanessa Angel), perhaps the most unrealistic character in the movie since, I can assure you, in my days of bowling I never saw a gal that looked this good anywhere near an alley. The circumstances change by the time they make it to Nevada, however, and it's Roy who actually enters the tournament – having to face off once again with his old nemesis, Ernie, in what surely is the funniest showdown we've seen in a sports comedy (and, yes, the big montage here actually features the song 'Showdown' by ELO, which is a perfect choice).
Of course, this being the Farrelly brothers, no joke is too crude or two low-brow to include in their movie (the slightly longer R-Rated cut is also included in addition to the theatrical PG-13 version). There are some big hits and misses when it comes to the humor, but thankfully many more land in the hit column. Bill Murray, despite only showing up at the beginning and end of the film is pure genius here. If the supplemental material is to be believed, Murray ad libbed a big chunk of his dialogue, and he deserves a lot of credit for making 'Kingpin' as entertaining as it is. Harrelson is the real star here, though, showing off his abilities for both comedy and drama in yet another great performance in a long history of them (seriously, how has this guy not yet won an Oscar?).
If you've already seen 'Kingpin', I imagine I'm pretty much preaching to the choir in my recommendation of this movie. However, if you've avoided the film all these years because you either dislike bowling or you haven't been impressed with the Farrelly brothers' other titles, all I can say is to give this movie a chance. It's one of those rare comedies that has instantly quotable dialogue, some great sight gags, and the kind of energy and heart you wish all films contained.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Kingpin' hits the lanes of retail in an eco-friendly Elite keepcase, which houses the single 50GB dual-layer disc, with no inserts. A red-bordered and decorated with glitter (thankfully, not the kind that will come off onto your hand) slipcase slides overtop. Other than the red border and the glitter, the slipcover matches the artwork of the keepcase's slick. The disc itself is not front-loaded with any trailers and, after the Paramount HD logo, the menu consists of a still of Woody, Randy, and Vanessa, with menu selections along the bottom of the screen.
This Blu-ray release is region-free.
You never know what you're going to get with a catalog title these days, particularly one that's being dropped on Blu-ray for such a reasonable price (some retailers have been selling this for under $10). However, I'm happy to report that Paramount has done a very nice job with 'Kingpin', giving viewers a pleasant HD image that still retains the look of film with consistent grain throughout. Details are also very good, and black levels are solid, if not exactly inky deep.
The transfer isn't without a few noticeable issues, although they are few and far between. I picked up on some aliasing in the background of an early scene, and some video noise creeps into a few shots throughout as well. The image also contains a lot of instances of dirt (flecks of both black and white) that are still on the print – although they are really only noticeable during scenes with particularly bright backgrounds.
Still, all in all, the video quality here is better than I expected, and the image is a noticeable upgrade from the prior DVD release. Fans of the movie will be happy with what they get here.
'Kingpin' has a great soundtrack, and I'm happy to report that the English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track does it justice. The balance of the track is very well done, and I was impressed by how active the speakers are throughout, including a lot of ambient noises from the rears that helped give the movie a more immersive feel to it than I was expecting. All of the music in the film sounds great, and the dialogue is all clearly spoken, with no hints of muddiness.
While the audio, of course, can't hope to compete with a more modern title on Blu-ray, things are still pretty enjoyable here, with a solid – but never overbearing – dynamic range. Again, much like the video, fans of 'Kingpin' are going to be very happy with what this Blu-ray delivers in terms of sound.
In addition to the English lossless track, 2.0 Dolby Digital tracks are available in both Spanish and French. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, Spanish, and French.
By far my favorite Farrelly brothers movie, 'Kingpin' is a wonderful combination of raunchy comedy and good storytelling. The actors here are fantastic, particularly Woody Harrelson and Bill Murray, the latter of whom steals almost every scene that he appears in. Even if you're not a bowling fan, chances are you'll become one after watching this delightful laugh-fest. Recommended.