A pro bowling hopeful from Iowa loses both his way and his right hand then finds redemption (and a rubber hand) on a road trip to Reno Open with an Amish bowling prodigy while committing acts of varying unspeakable foulness in order to win $1,000,000 to save the Amish family farm and learn multiple life lessons such as, “We don’t have a cow. We have a bull.”
I would’ve have paid Stanley Cup Game 7 level ticket prices to sit in on that pitch to a movie producer. Let’s roll.
Not a Sports Movie - a Movie with a Sport In It - Big Lebowski
This is in no way a putdown of Lebowski in any way, shape or form. If I ever did a 50 Best Movies of All-Time list, The Dude and his twisted cohorts would be on it. And I fully believe John Goodman as Walter is one of the great movie performances in history. I’m not kidding. My personal favorite was when he reminded us of the preferred nomenclatures:
However, the bowling alley was merely a setting despite them having an upcoming league tourney match against Liam and The Jesus. And Walter’s eligibility may have still been in question after threatening Smokey with a gun when he failed to mark a zero on his foot fault. Roy Munson, however, is attempting to coach Ishmael to victory in a $1M tourney to save the family farm. That’s my final decision and if you don’t like it, well shut the f*ck up, Donny, you’re out of your element!
However, if you’re ever looking for complementary bowling double feature, these would more than fit the bill.
On to the main event! After yet another extended break, the Top 50 Sports Movies list resumes:
#42 - Kingpin
And up until the moment he met Ernie McCracken, Roy Munson seemed well on his way to becoming all of those things his father promised, albeit slightly cocky - so it is there the sick, dark, twisted, beyond-f*cked-up-at-times story of Kingpin is off and running.
After leaving his Iowa home, Roy defeats “Big Ern” McCracken to win his first professional bowling tournament to the tune of something like $1500 and long story short, Big Ern then gets him involved in a con gone wrong which results in Roy losing his right hand. I question whether just sticking his hand in the ball return would shred it to pieces - otherwise, how the hell do the bowling balls make it back up? - but I wanted to believe in the magic, so I never looked that up.
Fast forward 15 or 20 years, and Roy is living in a crappy apartment in some northeastern city with a giant rubber hand which fits over the hook he’s been left with. We’re treated to a typical day in his life of watching him destroy alarm clocks, door handles, car mirrors and cheap suit coats with the hook. (Why doesn’t he put the rubber hand on first? Because then you don’t laugh uncontrollably watching him destroy shit. And you will.)
He also has good friends and neighbors who ask him things like:
“Hey, Roy, can you get sick from drinking piss?”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure you can.”
“What if it’s yours?”
He then heads to his job of selling bowling supplies - supplies which include glow-in-the-dark condoms - and discovers Amish Randy Quaid crushing pins. History has shown Amish Randy Quaid to be far more normal than real-life Randy Quaid, but I digress. He offers to become his bowling manager and is rebuffed, but quickly decides to go Amish undercover after staging a robbery attempt on his landlord where his plan to be the savior goes oh, so horribly wrong. She catches him with the schlub he hired to “rob” her, threatens to call the cops and then:
As a defeated and forlorn Harrelson takes to his knees by the commode post-coitus and attempts to free his stomach of everything he has ever eaten in his life, she unleashes this:
“What is it about good sex that makes me have to crap? (Turns to look at Woody) I think you jarred something loose, Tiger.”
Have you ever started laughing so hard the world just went white and breathing became an issue? Those goddamned Farrellys. As I was trying to recover, I finally opened my eyes to see them recreating the Anne Bancroft stocking-clad-bent-legged shot from The Graduate with Dustin Hoffman standing in the crook.
Except, it’s this:
At this point in the show, I knew two things: 1) these directors are truly the first who not only approached but completely embraced and probably exceeded the depths of my dark humor, and 2) we were truly off and running.
Quick sidebar: When this movie was released, I had no desire to see it because the TV ads were simply boring. This was because there were so few scenes which could be shown on a network TV commercial. However, I caught Siskel & Ebert late one night and both men raved about it while warning the audience it was not for the the faint of heart or those who didn’t have a sick sense of humor. They were not wrong and Ebert defended it as one of the top five comedies of all time until his death.
Once in Amish country, Roy attempts to blend by pretending to be a member of the Ohio Amish who has made his way east. It goes predictably awful. He begins by getting up early to milk their cow. He brags about what a tough old girl she was to get going and chugs some “milk” from the bucket while being told, “We don’t have a cow. We have a bull.”
“I’m gonna go brush my teeth.”
He follows up by walking off in the middle of raising of a barn wall because the dinner bell rings. (Picture bloodied, infuriated Amish wanting to kick every piece of his ass as he wolfs down mashed potatoes and tries to explain Jesus’ teaching to them) and finishes off by…well…let’s just say he didn’t really understand the concept of changing horseshoes and you only get to HEAR it go horribly wrong in the background as the father explains to Randy Quaid they need $500k to save their farm.
Since there conveniently is a pro bowling tourney in Reno with a $1,000,000 prize, this kickstarts a montage of their road trip which probably had more than one funny scene but I only remember Quaid indignantly explaining that he’s not naïve and can figure things out while, pants around ankles, he shits in a urinal.
(Anyone still on board at this point in the review is my kind of person. To those of you who bailed out at anytime now or previous? I completely understand and apologize for not one damn thing.)
Along the way, Roy and Ishmael end up in the basement alley of a low-level mobster for a money game. Ish wins, but the mobster becomes infuriated after finding out Roy didn’t actually have the cash to pay off if they lost which results in them having to escape being robbed and beat up. Fortunately for them, mobster guy had decided to slap his wife, Claudia, around a little for making a joke about the loss, so she steals his car and helps them escape.
That’s how Vanessa Angel comes to join their motley crew and help them hustle their way from bowling alley to bowling alley on the road to Reno. Many probably thought of Angel as eye candy - and she is that - but she also goes toe-to-toe on a comedy level with everyone in the cast. The road to Reno and the tourney includes but is not limited to:
- Claudia dancing in short skirts to distract Ishmael’s opponents.
- Roy substituting in a sheep for distraction when their farmer opponents show no interest in Claudia.
- Ish drawing the ire of Roger Clemens as local hick Skidmark by dancing with his girl. Roy saves the day by decking Ishmael, then squirting hot sauce in his eyes and having drinks with Skidmark and his pals to save the day.
- An argument between Roy and Claudia devolving into a motel parking lot fistfight between the two with Claudia scoring a TKO with a kick to the balls. (“You must have really big feet, you got ‘em both,” moans Roy.)
- While searching for Ishmael who runs away after the fight, they request info from the owner of a roadside reptile shop/farm who takes repeated strikes to the face from a viper he happens to be holding. And you’re damn right I flinched.
- The image burned into my brain of when they find Ishmael working as a female stripper. This includes licking the brass pole.
- Arriving in Reno to find that Big Ern is the #1 bowler in the world, has an amazing comb-over and used to date Claudia.
- Ish breaking his bowling hand trying to punch Big Ern, he’s out, Roy’s in.
- Roy meeting Chris Elliot (maybe) at the casino bar who offers him a $1M to sleep with Ish. The next 30 seconds or so:
Tournament time finally arrives with Roy trying to reclaim glory with his rubber hand. Plenty more rubber hand jokes ensue as Roy moves through the bracket earning the nickname “Rubberman”. Bill Murray takes his scene-stealing prowess to the next level as McCracken goes more and more insane. (“Finally! Big Ern is above the law!!”) Mobster guy shows up looking for Claudia further complicating everything, but you’ve probably figured out by now a movie this twisted won’t have a typical feel-good sports ending for our hero.
But before you start thinking the Farrellys don’t have a heart, have no doubt of two things: 1) the Amish family farm will be saved and 2) there’s no way the Trojan condom company will NOT sponsor someone called Rubberman.
On to our categories:
Quality of Sports Scenes: I never thought I’d be judging actual bowling in this, but both Woody and Murray looked smooth enough to fool me. The other bowlers at the big tourney included pros such as Mark Roth, Don Julio and Parker Bohn III, so I have no choice but to give this…-Score - ***** - Osborne
Music: Don’t look for any sports anthem type stuff, but Google this soundtrack and you’ll understand why this is another home run with tunes from a few different generations. It really is amazing and underrated stuff in a sick, raunchy comedy. Special shout out to John Popper both doing his best Michael Buffer impression as the announcer for the final match of the Reno tournament, then turning around a few minutes later while Blues Traveler plays everyone into the credits as the Amish hoedown band. Score - ***** - Osborne
Love Interest: I stated briefly before but will double down here - Vanessa Angel kills it. She’s one of those model types who’s almost too attractive (if that makes any sense but I think it does), but is also funny and possessing a hard edge while wanting to do the right thing. She berates, supports, encourages and even beats Roy senseless when required. And outsmarts mobster guy. She really convinces you Roy Munson better EARN her. We’re 3-for-3 now. Score - ***** - Osborne
Adrenalin/Goosebump Scenes: If you’ve ever seen Mark Hamill share the story of telling Harrison Ford during filming about how he thought it made no sense his hair was suddenly dry in Star Wars after being held underwater in the trash room for a few minutes? Ford’s response: “Kid, it ain’t that kind of movie.” Score - * - Frost. (2 quick notes - 1) One star for Big Ern’s 10th frame rolls in the final; 2) Yes, I’ve re-sorted the coach/star ratings.)
Comedy: Welp? This is openly a comedy. Both Roger Ebert and I agree it’s one of the best ever. It is most likely the funniest movie on this list. ‘Nuff said. Score - ***** - Osborne
Unintentional Comedy: In a movie which is so blatantly funny, this would normally be a zero except for Randy Quaid aging into an utter batshit, outer limits and eventually MAGA crazy person. We’ll toss that a crumb. Score - 1/2* - Riley
The Training Montage: I’m just gonna land this in the middle somewhere since the montages are not typical sports-training fare but are pretty amazing in their own right, and even I will admit distracting horny farmers with sheep to win a heartland bowling hustle and the other montage events? That probably deserves its own college sociology class. Score - ***1/2 - Pelini
Rewatchability - It’s the easiest 5-star of all the 5-stars. There are very, very few times where you have to wait more than 2-3 minutes for a laugh. I believe Ebert in his review said something along the lines of a good comedy having 1-2 belly laughs and nice collection of giggles. Kingpin gives you 6-8 howls and never stops trying to drag laughs out of you by any means necessary in the rest of its spare time. One can jump in anywhere and the sickness will come along shortly. Score - ***** - Osborne
OVERALL - So after all these 5-stars, this is obviously way up there and why the hell is it only #42? Because this is top 50 SPORTS movies. If it was best comedies (top 3 for me) or even greatest 50 movies (likely in there as well), then ok. However, this is a comedy which clawed its way onto the sports movie list by having a sports movie storyline and treating the sport like the real deal and then some. However, it is bowling and comedy. But so glad I had a excuse to rewatch it. Score - *** - Pelini.
PREVIOUS TOP 50 ARTICLES
#50 - THE MIGHTY DUCKS
#49 - AMERICAN FLYERS
#48 - WIND
#47 - THE NATURAL
#46 - BLOODSPORT
#45 - YOUNGBLOOD
#44 - THE REPLACEMENTS