Februrary 18, 2013

Kingpin (1996)
Starring Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid, Vanessa Angel, and Bill Murray

"One day, when people say the name Munson, they're gonna think "winner." Just like DiMaggio is to baseball or, or Unitas is to football, that's what Munson will be to bowling."  -Calvert Munson

Comments:  Oh, the mighty Kingpin.   This has long been one of my favorite comedies of the 90's, yet for some reason it never gets the praise that the other two movies in the famous "Farrelly Brothers Trilogy" have received.  And that is a shame because, if you ask me, this is probably my favorite of the three.  Yes that's right.  I will come right out and say it.  I like Kingpin even more than I like There's Something About Mary.  And that is saying something, when you consider that TSAM is one of my top twenty favorite comedies of all time.


If you guys don't know the history behind Kingpin, if you don't know the story behind the legend of Roy Munson, Claudia the Whore, Skidmark, and "Big Ern" Ernie McCracken, let me fill you in.  Because this movie has a lot in common with another underappreciated comedy that I wrote about earlier on my list, Top Secret.

In 1994, the Farrelly Brothers made their debut with a comedy that got everyone talking.  That's right, I can only be talking about Dumb and Dumber.  The king of comedies in 1994.  A movie that, to this day, still holds my own personal record because I saw it seven different times in the theater.  Which doesn't really say so much about the quality of the movie, as it does about the fact that I didn't have a whole lot to do in 1994.

Anyway, Dumb and Dumber was a big hit.  And then after it was a big hit people were anxiously awaiting the next big Farrelly Brothers comedy.  Because seriously, how do you top Dumb and Dumber?  How do you top a comedy that was that popular and was that funny, and was that big a hit among audiences?

Well Kingpin was how they topped it.  Kingpin came out in 1996 and it was the Farrelly Brothers' follow-up to Dumb and Dumber.

The Rubber Man

And of course Kingpin was a huge flop.

Now, to my dying day, I will never understand why Kingpin was a flop.  I mean this movie is fucking hilarious.  It was an instant classic the moment it appeared on a movie screen.  Yet for some reason it never made any money.  Nobody went to see it.  And this is despite the fact that it had BILL MURRAY in it.  Here you have Bill Murray, maybe the funniest actor of all time, in what I would say is arguably his funniest role in a movie ever, in a Farrelly Brothers comedy that was riding on the success of Dumb and Dumber, and for some inexplicable reason it just never found an audience.  I will never understand how that happened.

By the way, if you think I am confused how this movie never found an audience, you should read a Farrelly Brothers interview sometime.  Watch what happens whenever somebody brings up Kingpin.  Watch how confused even THEY are that this movie never found an audience.  In fact they aren't just confused about it, they have flat out admitted that their feelings were hurt over it.  They have always taken it very personally that the movie that they probably consider their best (Kingpin) is universally considered one of their worst.

Anyway, after Kingpin flopped, their third movie (There's Something About Mary) came out in 1998.  And naturally, that one was a huge smash.  Once TSAM came out, all the critics started touting the Farrelly Brothers as the kings of comedy movies in the 1990's.  And how everything they touched turned to gold.  And how they were the best comedy writing team since Jim Abrahams and the Zucker Brothers.  

And meanwhile the Farrelly Brothers are still hurt that everyone dissed their second movie so badly. They were sitting there thinking well okay that's all well and good, but what about our masterpiece?

By the way, if you think I am making this up, listen to the DVD commentary of There's Something About Mary sometime.  The Farrelly Brothers flat out admit in the commentary that they were pissed that everyone ignored Kingpin so badly, and they figured they only had one more chance to make their mark in Hollywood and go out with a bang.  So they just wrote a bunch of outrageous and incredibly R rated scenes that would never be allowed to be shown in a comedy.  That's right, TSAM was a spite movie if there ever was one.  They only wrote it so they could flop even worse than Kingpin and go out with a bang.

Then of course TSAM turned out to be a huge hit, and they were as surprised as anyone.

Hates franks and beans

And now you are asking, okay well then how is Kingpin like Top Secret?

Well that's easy.  If you know anything about the Zucker Brothers, you will know that if there is one movie they have always been sensitive about, it is Top Secret.  That is the movie that they originally considered to be their masterpiece.  Yet just like Kingpin it turned out to be a big flop.  Nowadays Top Secret is remembered as little more that "that other movie" that is sandwiched between two masterpieces.  It is the movie between Airplane! and The Naked Gun that no one remembers.

Sound familiar?

In fact I remember reading an interview once with the Zucker Brothers, where they admitted that their feelings were hurt that the movie that they loved so much and had so much fun making (Top Secret) never really caught on the way that their other movies did.  Which is EXACTLY the way that the Farrelly Brothers describe Kingpin.  Right down the fact that both sets of brothers will talk about how pissed they were and how much pressure was on them when they sat down to make that third movie.

Here is what I will tell you about Kingpin.  I will finish off my review with four things I have always wanted to say about it.  Then I will leave you on your own and you can go watch it (or rewatch it) for yourself.

"Supplemental income?"

Like I said, Kingpin came out in 1996.  I was 22 years old.  I had just graduated from college and I didn't have a whole lot to do at the moment.  And I remember just being overjoyed when I first saw the previews for it.

An Amish bowling comedy!  From the directors of Dumb and Dumber!  Starring Bill Murray and Woody Harrelson!

Well anyone who knows me can tell you that Woody Harrelson is one of my favorite underrated actors of all time.  I think he is hilarious in everything.  And of course you know how I feel about Bill Murray.  I could have told you this movie would be an instant classic the moment I saw that first promo.  There was no chance that a movie with Woody Harrelson and Bill Murray about an Amish bowling prodigy could NOT be funny.  I mean, come on.  That movie could have been made by Tommy Wiseau and it might have actually been pretty good.

Oh hai Brother Hezekiah, maybe you should get a girl

Well my wife and I had planned out a cross country drive in the summer of 1996 (right after we graduated from college), and I did the math in my head and I realized that Kingpin was coming out the exact same day we were going to be in Elkhart, Indiana.  Which, if you don't know Elkhart, is actually Amish country.

That's right, I was going to be in Amish country the day that the Amish bowling comedy came out.  I was going to be able to see Kingpin in actual Amish country.

I mean, how awesome is that?  How could ANYONE pass up a bucket list moment like that?

You know, I hate to admit this, but I never got to see Kingpin in Elkhart, Indiana.  I had intended to.  Half of our cross country trip was kind of based around the fact that I was going to be able to see Kingpin in actual Amish country.  But sadly, the day we were in Indiana it turned out not to be playing anywhere.  Plus I think we had just driven 14 hours that day or something and I was exhausted.  

In any case, I never got a chance to see Kingpin in Amish country and it haunts me to this day.

I didn't see it until we got back to California a couple of days later.  And of course it was as awesome as I knew it would be.

Okay that was the first thing I wanted to say about Kingpin.  The second thing I wanted to say was "Roy Munson."

That's it.  That's all I have to say.  Roy Munson.  One of the greatest movie characters of all time.

Kingpin was the movie that gave us Roy Munson.  Kingpin was the movie that gave us the phrase "I hope I don't get Munsoned out here in the middle of nowhere."  Kingpin was the movie that gave us the definition "Munsoned = to be up shit creek without a paddle; to have the world in the palm of your hand and then piss it all away."

Kingpin would make this list even if Roy Munson was the only thing it had going for it.  

And naturally, Woody Harrelson was the perfect actor to play Roy Munson.

Sweeter than Yoohoo

Okay the next memorable thing about this movie.

The gross old landlady.

Yeah you didn't think I was going to let you get away without posting a picture of her, did you?

My apologies

Hands down, Roy Munson's landlady is one of my favorite characters in any of the Farrelly Brothers movies.  She steals every single scene she is in, and I remember just nearly falling out of my seat laughing the first time I saw her.  In fact I can only think of maybe ten movie scenes in the history of comedy movies that made me laugh harder than the first time I saw "What is it about good sex that makes me have to crap?  You really jarred something loose, Tiger."  Or as most people remember that scene, "Pump and dump."

Good lord.  I am sitting here just remembering that scene and I am cracking up.  I need to go watch it again.  

Like I said, I remembering seeing the pump and dump scene the first time in the theater and it almost knocked me onto the floor.  When people say "I laughed so hard I nearly fell out of my chair," they are almost always exaggerating.  But in this case I am really not.  Pump and Dump and the baseball scene in the Naked Gun are the two scenes I can say honestly made me laugh so hard that my stomach hurt.

Sorry, couldn't resist

By the way, if you want some fun movie trivia, the gross old landlady in Kingpin was played by Lin Shaye, who is in almost all of the Farrelly Brothers movies. She is sort of their good luck charm.  You can also see her as Mrs. Nugeborn at the start of Dumb and Dumber and as Magda in There's Something About Mary.  And despite the nasty characters she tends to play, she is actually quite sweet and pleasant looking in real life.  I don't know how she wound up as "the gross old character in every Farrelly Brothers comedy" but hey sometimes you just find a niche.

The best of Lin Shaye

Okay, and now we come to the most memorable thing about Kingpin.  Or the most memorable character, if you will.  And you know who I am going to say.

That's right.  It is the guy who I recently claimed was my favorite movie villain of all time.  

It is Big Ern himself, the one and only Bill Murray.

This is what I will always love about Kingpin.  

There are two great iconic characters in this movie.  You have Roy Munson.  And you have the gross old landlady.  In ANY other comedy, those two characters would be the ones that you always remember.  In any other comedy, those two characters would have been a really big deal.

But in Kingpin you barely remember either one of them.  

Because they both get overshadowed by Bill Murray.

The legend

As I wrote a while back, somebody once asked Bill Murray in an interview to name two really funny Bill Murray movies.  And Bill himself didn't even hesitate.  He said "Quick Change and the first Ghostbusters."  Which are two really good choices.

But that interview came out right before he made Kingpin.

If you asked -me- to name two really funny Bill Murray movies, well I am sorry Ghostbusters but I would say you just got knocked off the list.  And my apologies to my friend Chris, who I know is reading this and who is the biggest Ghostbusters fan alive.  But if you asked ME, I would say the two funniest Bill Murray movies are Kingpin and Quick Change.  And yes, in that order.  

I don't think Bill Murray will ever play a better character than Big Ern.  I'm not sure if anyone (in a comedy) will ever play any character better than Big Ern.  This is the ultimate choice of the perfect actor for the perfect role.

And here is the most amazing thing about this movie.

Bill Murray didn't even follow a script.  The Farrelly Brothers handed him a script on day one and he just threw it in the garbage.  Cause Bill Murray don't work with scripts.  That's not how Bill Murray do.  Every single scene with Ernie McCracken in it was just Bill Murray improvising.

With an assist from the combover

And so there you have it.  Kingpin.  One of my all time favorite comedies, featuring three of my all time favorite comedy characters.  I could live to the age of a hundred, and I will never understand how a movie like this didn't find an audience.  In my opinion it is the best movie of the Farrelly Brothers trilogy.  And again, I really really love There's Something About Mary.  And I saw Dumb and Dumber seven times in the theater.  That should tell you something.

By the way, if there is one complaint I could make about Kingpin (really there is only one) I would say that I wish that a stronger actor had played the Amish bowling prodigy Ishmael.  I mean, Randy Quaid does okay, but that was a role that should have been knocked out of the park.  It wasn't supposed to be "he did okay."  I remember Bill Simmons of Grantland once writing that if someone like Will Ferrell had played Ishmael, Kingpin would have been the funniest movie ever.  And I would agree with that.  As much as I love Kingpin, I can only wonder how good it would have been if somebody other than Randy Quaid had been in it.


Oh well.  Just a minor quibble.  In any case, Kingpin is a movie that should be just as beloved as Dumb and Dumber and There's Something About Mary, so let's get working on that.  And I can't be the only one out there who feels this way.

Bye, brother Munson.  Bye, whore.

* My favorite IMDB user reviews about Kingpin:

This is a screaming laugher - 6 November 1998
Sitting around with nothing better to do, my wife and I thought we'd give a 1 1/2 star Woody Harrelson movie a chance. Terrible reviews. No one saw it. No one heard of it.

In the first half hour we were in pain from laughing so hard. Only people who saw it will understand the following: "I milked the cow. She sure was hard to warm up." It took me 15 minutes to recover from the next few seconds of punchline. I had to roll off the couch and get down on the floor before I FELL on the floor.

There are about 15 BIG laughs and maybe 30 smaller ones.

I went into IMBD the next day to read what real people (not critics) had to say. Critics didn't like "Ferris Bueller" or "Airplane" either. IMBD clued me that this was made by the same guys who did "Dumb & Dumber" and "There's Something about Mary." If those two screamers aren't to your taste, you'll be with the critics on "Kingpin." Comedy works differently for different people.

Full of truly original humor. RUN don't walk to rent it. I have 1153 movies on tape and am kicking myself for not taping this for visitors who ask me to show them something they may have missed.

Besides Caddyshack, one of the greatest comedies ever penned... - 21 November 2000
Kingpin is as funny as a movie gets. I put it up there with Caddyshack and Naked Gun in terms of "laugh of loud" funny. When I read that Siskel and Ebert put it in their list of "Top 10 Movies of 1996", I knew this was no ordinary bathroom humor flick. The Farrelly Brothers are so slick at hiding great jokes into ordinary dialogue. The best parts are hidden and the more you watch this movie, the more jokes you will find. So, if you watched this and did not find it funny, rent it again. I am telling you, this movie is fantastic. Harrelson is terrific as a bald, dim-witted bowler with a hook for a hand. I mean, come on now, that description alone makes me laugh. This movie blows "There's Something About Mary" away. Great soundtrack as well.

I Almost Died Of Laughter - 3 February 2009
This of course is not a great movie but I just have to give it a 10/10. I have never laughed more in my life. Even the jokes that aren't funny are funny. This film's comedic build up is about the best you will ever see. It doesn't even matter what the punch line is, it's how they get to it that's hilarious.

Now this cast was perfect. Anytime you have Randy Quaid in a film you just know the film is going to make you life just by looking at him. Kingpin couldn't have shown this any better as he plays an Amish man who just happens to be amazingly talented at bowling. Woody Harrelson plays a has-been ex-professional bowler who makes a comeback with managing through Randy Quaid. Together they go on a ride across the country making money left and right. Along the journey they are great supporting comedic performances given by Bill Murray and Vanessa Angel who certainly makes the look of the film more appealing.

The Farrelly brothers in my opinion give their best direction they've yet to have. Yet it is the writers who so perfectly set up one joke after another. It seems as if the script is so sharp that their are jokes within jokes. The Farrelly brother handle this material so well by virtual unknowns.

As I have said before this is not a great film but I would highly recommend this if your in the mood of watching something spontaneous. It may not be the most technically sound movie ever made or the deepest but I have never laughed so much in life and that in it self is what comedies are about.

One of the Funniest Movies Ever Made - 4 February 2013
Bowling legend Roy Munson (Woody Harrelson) loses a hand to a group of drunks after trying to con them with fellow bowler Ernie McCracken (Bill Murray). Now a drunk promoter with a fake rubber hand, Munson is a shadow of his former self until he hears the fateful sound of a strike. Amish prodigy Ishmael (Randy Quaid) stands to be Munson's shot at winning the largest tournament in the country, but the road there is paved with consequence.

This is one of the funniest movies ever made. The Farrelly brothers have given us countless laughs, but this is their best. It brings together some of the most unexpected actors, many out of their element in a comedy, to flawlessly turn a script into a comedic work of art. The laughs are typical Farrelly gross out while remaining truly, deeply funny.

Woody Harrelson turns in one of his best performances as the down-but-not-out Munson, wearing a ridiculous wig, outdated clothing, and always his fake rubber hand. Each scene he's in is a lesson in how to lead a comedy, and reminds one of his early days on "Cheers" as the bartender Woody Boyd. His co-star in Quaid is the same; whether it be the murderous, greedy Sheriff is "Hard Rain", or here as the hilariously simple sure relative of the "Vacation" movies Cousin Eddie, Randy Quaid proves his ever surprising versatility as an actor.

Bill Murray also fires on all cylinders as the over the top McCracken, Harrelson's arch-nemesis. Murray's last scene is one of the best in the movie; with his hair tossed every which way and his eyes flooding with tears he makes you shocked that he's only been nominated for one Oscar. Vanessa Angel is mostly eye candy but she doesn't have to make up for any acting downfalls.

"Kingpin" is well-cast, well-written, consistently engaging and always funny. It brings together a diverse cast and a great script to make one of the funniest movies of our time. Strike it off your bucket list.

Really laugh-out-loud funny - 25 October 1998
I went to see There's Something About Mary and liked it so much that I decided to rent Kingpin for the hell of it. I'll probably get into some heat for saying this, but, I actually liked this one more than Mary. Harrelson, Quaid, Murray, etc. are all funnier than Dillon or Diaz or even Stiller, I think they have a lot more comedic talent than any of Mary's various players. Don't get me wrong though, I liked Mary, I just loved Kingpin. It's a shame that Mary turned out to be the money maker and almost no one's ever heard of this one. I hope that when people go see Mary, they'll do their research on the Farrelly brothers and check this one out. I just have one request to the brothers for their next film, don't hire that Chris Elliot guy, he just really sucks.

Best Comedy I Have Ever Seen - 19 November 2011
I take my comedy seriously (no pun intended). I grew up watching the original cast of SNL, three stooges and actors like Gene Wilder. They all had something special, and I think remain extremely special 30 years later. Kingpin has that rare "something special". I had to watch this movie a few times before I fully appreciated the "once in a lifetime" performances by Harrelson and Murray, and outstanding writing by the Farrelly brothers.

This movie, unlike most other comedies I've seen, continually provides genuinely funny moments throughout the entire movie. There are very few comedies I have ever watched that I can say the same about. It's like all the stars in the sky aligned for one perfect moment and in that moment they filmed "Kingpin".

Now, this film may not be for every one. It's crude, rude and in your face comedy. It's typical Farrelly brother fare. If you like that, or even if you don't and just like the silly comedy of Bill Murray (before he went all serious) - then this movie is well worth a watch. Definitely a 10 out of 10 in my book.

I Love This Movie - 7 November 2003
I don't understand why this movie has such a low rating on this site, but then again, I tend to believe that most people don't fully understand Kingpin. There are a lot of people out there that will say this is a slapstick movie, full of fart jokes and low-brow humor. Those kind of comments frustrate me, because it's my contention that Kingpin is the best of the Farrelly brothers' movies. In fact, Kingpin is one of my favorite movies of the 90's. Not only is the humor in the movie a lot more complex than some people realize, the story is original, honest, and entertaining. I highly recommend this movie to anyone, and if you enjoy it half as much as I did, believe me, you won't be sorry you watched it.

* My favorite trivia about Kingpin:
(some good stuff here, check these out)

* Bill Murray really bowled three strikes in a row in the scene where his character, Ernie McCracken does the same. The crowd's reaction is genuine and is actually for Murray. Woody Harrelson, on the other hand, was a terrible bowler and according to the Farrelly brothers maybe got one or two strikes throughout the filming.

* According to Chris Farley's agent Doug Robinson, Chris was offered the part of Ishmael, but his contractual obligation to appear in Black Sheep derailed this plan.

* As is the case with most of his films, Bill Murray ad-libbed virtually every line he spoke. He would read over the script, get the general idea, and then discard it. The Farrelly brothers, on the DVD commentary, said that they're very glad he did, because it was funnier.

* The entire commercial Ernie McCracken does for the kids, is ad libbed by Bill Murray with only the scenes scripted.

* Jim Carrey was the first choice of the Farrelly brothers to play Ernie McCracken.

* In the Cheers episode Cheers: From Beer to Eternity Woody Boyd, played by Woody Harrelson, reveals that he is an ex-bowling ace who retired due to crippling a man in a bowling accident. In this film his character is forced into retirement due to a bowling injury at the hands of Ernie McCracken.

* Major League Baseball pitcher Roger Clemens has a small cameo in the film. In the restaurant scene where Roy punches out Ishmael, Clemens plays the part of Skidmark. Clemens currently ranks 8th on the All Time wins list for major league baseball pitchers.

* In the big bowling tournament at the end, an unseen person in the stands yells "Attaboy, Luther!"  Every time Don Knotts character speaks in public in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, an unseen person also yells "Attaboy, Luther!".

* In the scene in the bowling alley restaurant just before Ishmael is about to get beaten up, the three are eating burgers and fries. However, Roy is eating a salad because actor Woody Harrelson is a vegan.

* Roy, played by Woody Harrelson, dreams that the Gambler will pay him $1,000,000 to sleep with Ishmael. This is a reference to Indecent Proposal also starring Harrelson.

* The person shouting "Ernie, you 'da man!" at the final showdown between McCracken and Munson, is Will Ferrell.

* John Popper, lead singer and harmonica player for Blues Traveler, has a bit part as the announcer for the Reno bowling championship. Popper, in Amish garb, appears at the end of the movie playing one of their songs.

* My favorite quotes from Kingpin:

Little boy: Sometimes when I wake up in the morning Mr. McCracken's already there.

[after punching out Ishmael]
Roy: Take that, you freaky piece of shit! You don't mow another guy's lawn!

Roy: Hey, I hope you don't mind, I got up a little early, so I took the liberty of milking your cow for you. Yeah, it took a little while to get her warmed up, she sure is a stubborn one. Then, POW, all at once.
[He takes a drink from the bucket]
Mr. Boorg: We don't have a cow. We have a bull.
Roy: I'll brush my teeth.

Ishmael: Ten frames?  [scoffs] That's for Quakers.

Neighbor: Roy, can you get sick drinkin' piss?
Roy: I think you can.
Neighbor: Even if it's your own?

Mr. Boorg: How many children do you have, Brother Hezekiah?
Roy: Uh, none that I know of.
[Adopting a terrible Irish accent]
Roy: What I mean to say is, I was, uh, wee, I'm unable to have children. Nasty cheese gratin' accident as a young man.

Roy: Just because you're familiar with the missionary position doesn't make you a missionary.

[Roy is throwing up in the background after having had sex with his Landlady, to keep from being evicted.  The Landlady is too satisfied to care]
Landlady: What is it about good sex that makes me have to crap? I guess it's all that pumpin'. Pump and dump.
[She laughs at her own jokes]
Landlady: You really jarred something loose, tiger.

Ernie McCracken: It's a small world when you've got unbelievable tits Roy.

Roy: I know what you're thinking, but let me explain...
[Claudia kicks Roy in the crotch]
Roy: [very softly] You must have a really wide foot because you got both of them

Roy: Yeah, sure, Thomas can raise a barn, but can he pick up a 7-10 split?
Ishmael: God blessed my brother to be a good carpenter. It's okay.
Roy: Yeah, well, he blessed you, too, and I'll give you a clue what it is. It's round, it has three holes, and you stick your fingers into it.
Ishmael: You leave Rebecca out of this, mister!
Roy: I'm talking about bowling! Your future!

[Roy Munson is getting ready for his turn to bowl]
Ernie McCracken: It all comes down to this roll. Roy Munson, a man-child, with a dream to topple bowling giant Ernie McCracken. If he strikes, he's the 1979 Odor-Eaters Champion. He's got one foot in the frying pan and one in the pressure cooker. Believe me, as a bowler, I know that right about now, your bladder feels like an overstuffed vacuum cleaner bag and your butt is kinda like an about-to-explode bratwurst.
Roy: Hey. Do you mind? I wasn't talking when you were bowling.
Ernie McCracken: Was I talking out loud? Was I? Sorry. Good luck.

Ishmael: I didn't want to be the one to tell him, but with those narrow hips, that girl couldn't have more than 6 or 7 children!

Calvert Munson: You got a great gift, son. It's as if angels came down from heaven and put a blessing on your three bowling digits. You can apply everything that I've taught you about bowling to your daily life. And if you do that, you're gonna be decent, you're gonna be moral, and you're going to be a good man.

* My favorite scene in Kingpin:

Man, asking me to pick between Pump and Dump and the final bowling match with Big Ern is like asking me to pick which one of my children I love the most.  I can't do it.  Okay, fine.  Let's go off kilter and pick the scene where Big Ern shakes Roy's hand, he gets creeped out because it is made of rubber, so he pulls it off and he flings it into the crowd as a souvenir.  Again, completely ad libbed by Bill Murray.  And it kills me every time.

Kingpin at the IMDB

Kingpin at Wikipedia

Back to 200 Movies That Deserve More Love