Kingpin (United States, 1996)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Movies have always used the "from the makers of..." line. You know, "a new film from the makers of Lawrence of Arabia" or "a new film from the makers of Glory". Kingpin employs this time-honored tradition, except, in this case, it proudly claims to be "from the makers of Dumb and Dumber." And, while the 1994 Jim Carrey/Jeff Daniels comedy was far from a modern cinematic classic, linking Kingpin to it gives you a fair idea of what to expect, at least as far as the level of humor is concerned.

Before attending a screening of this film, I had heard some positive advance comments, so, although I was dubious about a Farrelly Brothers movie, I went into the theater in anticipation of a constant stream of coarse, lowbrow comedy. I was primed to laugh. I wanted to laugh. And, two hours later, I was still waiting. Oh, I suppose I managed a chuckle or two during some of Kingpin's more outrageous moments, but, joke-for-joke, this is a weak movie. And I mean weak. You can see almost all the gags coming. By comparison, Dumb and Dumber was a veritable laugh-fest. And the crowd I saw the movie with -- the average, teen- dominated Friday night group -- didn't seem to be having a whole lot more fun than I was. Laughter, while present, was surprisingly sparse. And that, more than anything, indicates how lackluster this movie is.

Kingpin ends up playing a little like Rocky meets Dumb and Dumber. That's when it's not doubling as a shameless advertisement for ESPN (the cable sports network covers the big bowling match at the end, and their logo is everywhere). The downtrodden hero is Roy Munson (Woody Harrelson), a once-promising bowler who lost his hand in 1979 because of a failed hustle orchestrated by his rival, Big Ernie (Bill Murray). Now, 17 years older and wearing a rubber hand, Roy is a burnt-out drunk running small-time scams. That is, until one day in Scranton when he spies Ishmael (Randy Quaid), an Amish bowler who knocks down pin after pin. Suddenly, Roy has visions of managing Ish to a $1 million championship, and finally avenging himself against Big Ernie. So, after a lackluster "comic" sequence on the Amish farm (featuring a grandma with whiskers and the de-semination of a bull -- ha ha ha!), Roy and Ish head for Reno. Along the way, they pick up Roy's soon-to-be love interest, a shapely woman named Claudia (Vanessa Angel), who happens to be a mobster's girlfriend.

I'll readily admit that I'm not the biggest fan of mindless humor, but, when it's done right, it can be very funny (as in The Monster or, during certain scenes, Eddie Murphy's The Nutty Professor). Kingpin never does it right. This movie is a complete and utter waste of time. The running length may be one-hundred thirteen minutes, but it seems like it takes about six hours to traverse the painful road from opening to closing credits. And the comedy, such as it is, isn't sufficiently funny to provide more than an occasional, momentary diversion.

I could mention the parts of Kingpin that work -- the list is short enough that it wouldn't take up much space -- but I won't bother. The fact that this picture has been given its theatrical release in the midst of the Olympics, when no one is going to the movies, shows how little faith MGM has in its commercial potential. I hope they're right. In a summer filled with disappointments, Kingpin occupies one of the lowest rungs. And the really disgusting thing about this movie isn't the crude jokes themselves, but how grossly unfunny they all are.

Kingpin (United States, 1996)

Run Time: 1:53
U.S. Release Date: 1996-07-26
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1