Saturday, September 13, 2014

Kingpin

My god, that hair. During the climactic showdown of the bowling comedy Kingpin (1996), Bill Murray boasts the absolute best, most epic combover in the history of well, anything, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. It's just all over the place. It really has to be seen to be believed.

Let's be honest here. Kingpin is a dumb movie, I mean, aggressively dumb. What else would you expect from the Farrelly Brothers, the same guys who brought us Dumb & Dumber? Nothing is too stupid or too lowbrow for them to try. This is the kind of movie that shows us Randy Quaid reading a newspaper while taking a crap in a urinal, as if Randy Quaid ever read anything.

Kingpin follows the sports movie formula of the burned-out loser looking for redemption by taking on a talented young kid as his protege and sets it in the world of bowling. Here, that loser is Roy Munson, a one-handed former state champion played by Woody Harrelson, and the kid is the Amish southpaw Ishmael Borg, played by Quaid, which is something I've never understood. Randy Quaid was almost 50 when this movie came out, and yet he is constantly referred to as a kid by the others. Is he supposed in his late teens or early 20s or is he just an overgrown man-child? I must know because if it's the man-child thing, then that makes his relationship with the cute Amish girl kind of creepy ("It's round, it has three holes, and you stick your fingers in it." "You leave, Miss Rebecca out of this!"). Although nothing in the movie is as creepy as Roy's landlady.

See, early on, Roy, down on his luck, has a friend stage a mugging of his landlady so he could play the hero and buy himself some time to pay his rent. When she discovers the fraud, she's ready to call the cops, so Roy resorts to doing the nasty with her. We don't see them together thankfully, but we do see him puking his guts out in the toilet while she lounges back in the bed, smoking a cigarette, and opines how great sex makes her have to take a dump. In a shot lifted from The Graduate, she pulls up her socks while showing off her varicose veins. All the while, Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence" plays on the soundtrack, surely one of the greatest uses of any of their songs on film. On her way out, the landlady tells Roy he still owes another month's rent and then does the tongue-in-fingers gesture, implying just what he'll have to do to pay that rent off. That's when Roy realizes he must recruit Ishmael and take him to Reno to compete in a championship bowling tournament, grand prize $1,000,000.

Escapades on the road ensue. After a visit at the Borg family farm, which is in danger of being foreclosed upon, Roy and Ishmael hit the road, pull off a number of bowling scams to get the money they need to reach Reno, pick up Claudia (Vanessa Angel) a beauty with the brains to match it, run afoul of some gamblers, squabble with each other a bit, and finally reach the tournament, where after an injury to Ishmael's bowling hand, Roy is forced to don a rubber hand, pick up up his bowling ball, and square off against his old nemesis, Ernie McCracken (Murrary), he of the aforementioned combover.

No one watches Kingpin for its plot, which is as predictable as any of the sports movies it lampoons, except in one regard, I'll give it that much; that little spin just further establishes why Bill Murray will always be better than any of us could hope to be.

Murray is just great. McCracken, or "Big Ern" as he prefers to be called, is just an unapologetic, sleazy bastard who has everything go his way. The film lags a bit in the middle when he's away for a while, but when he's around, he's awesome. Just before the tournament at the end, we see him in a commercial where he demonstrates his support for Families without Fathers, explaining how they were all almost "Munsoned" (a term he co-opted from Roy to describe what happens to losers) and how he sponsors such a family in every city he visits (it should be noted all the mothers in this video are quite attractive and don't seem to mind when Big Ern cops a feel during a game of touch football). When asked about a pending paternity suit against, Big Ernie insists it's a sham because he pulled out in time.

Harrelson's also funny as the down-and-out Roy, the bitter schemer who's not as smart as he thinks he is. He's just as shameless as Big Ern, just not as successful at it. Roy gets hit in the balls a lot, both literally and figuratively. His attempts to scam people whether it be other bowlers, gamblers, or the Amish usually end in failure. It's only when Claudia shows up he and Ishmael end up getting anywhere. Of our intrepid trio, she's the smartest of the bunch and knows how use her ... assets to her advantage.  Quaid, despite my questioning of his age, is pretty funny too as the clueless, naive Ishmael, though the act can be a little too much at times.

As can be expected for this type of comedy, there are any number of little throwaways: the Amish grandmother with the beard, how Roy has to de-shoes a horse, the method in which the boys distract the other bowlers when they realize Claudia's sexiness won't do it, Ishmael's discovery floss. It's all over the map. Some of it's wickedly funny, some of it is stupid, and often, it's both. It's as much an intellectual exercise as bowling is an actual sport (if you can eat pizza and drink beer between turns and not have it impact your game, it's not a sport), and that's why I love it.

Watch it or be Munsoned.

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