Kingpin (1996 with Woody Harrelson and Bill Murray)


USA / 1996

Directors: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly
Writers: Barry Fanaro, Mort Nathan

Cast: Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid, Vanessa Angel, Bill Murray, Chris Elliott, William Jordan, Lin Shaye

Before they brought a new meaning to the term gross profit with There’s Something About Mary , the Farrelly brothers (Peter and Bobby) made this equally funny comedy set in the unlikely world of tenpin bowling. The laughs come thick and fast as the Farrellys produce their trademark mix of outrageous gags (the main one this time involves a prosthetic hand), outré set-pieces and sentimental love story.

Kingpin starts in 1979, when Roy Munson (Woody Harrelson) has the world at his fingertips. Recently crowned bowling champion, he inadvertently gets mixed up in a scam with duplicitous fellow bowler Big Ern (Bill Murray) and when the punters realise they’re being hustled, they take revenge on Munson by placing his hand down the ball-return machine. By the mid-90s, he has become an alcoholic travelling salesman with his name a euphemism for a spectacular screw-up.

Now sporting a hook hand, pot belly, balding pate and wardrobe to die (of shame) for, Roy gets an unexpected chance for redemption when he discovers a bowling genius in the shape of Ishmael Boorg (Randy Quaid), an Amish man. Roy tutors Ishmael with the aim of entering him for the national championships. En route to the finals in Reno, the men meet the attractive Claudia (Vanessa Angel), who bowls both of them over. With Ish seeking the prize money to pay for his community’s mortgage, the scene is set for a grand confrontation with Big Ern to see who wins the grand prize.

“When I read Kingpin , I thought it was the most hilarious script I’d ever read,” says Woody Harrelson, “and aside from being funny, the story had great heart.” It also contains pastiches of movies such as Witness , The Graduate and Indecent Proposal (which featured Harrelson, of course) and set-pieces to rival There’s Something About Mary for tastelessness.