Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

KINGPIN (1996) **

Directed by Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly. Written by Barry Fanaro and Mort Nathan. Photography, Mark Irwin. Editing, Christopher Greenbury. Production design, Sidney Jackson Bartholomew, Jr. Music, Freedy Johnston. Cast: Woody Harrelson (Roy Munson), Randy Quaid (Ishmael), Vanessa Angel (Claudia), Bill Murray (Ernie McCracken) and Chris Elliott (the Gambler). An MGM release. 114 min. Rated R (crude language, situations and sex, violence)
In 1979, young bowling prodigy Roy Munson of Ohio (Harrelson) defeats the reigning Odor Eaters Championship title-holder Ernie McCracken (Murray). Ernie, older, rotten and a con man, sneakily disables Roy's car with sugar in the gas, so as to "rescue" Roy and use him for bowling hustles. In the last scam, the "victims" (themselves scammers) catch on and grind up Roy's fingers as Ernie runs off.

In 1996 we meet again Roy, a broken man, subsisting in Scranton, Pennsylvania under pathetic conditions. One day, however, he gets bowled over by the bowling of Ishmael (Quaid) and offers to make him into a pro, with hopes of sharing with him one million dollars at a winner-takes-all tournament in Reno. Ishmael, who is Amish and practices his avocation secretly, will have none of it.

Persistent Roy, in Amish garb and fake beard, joins Ishmael at his Amish settlement, makes friends, finally succeeds as the community is hit by a debt of half-a-million. The two men take to the road, hustling their sport.. In one of their adventures, a wealthy, sinister bowling addict goes after them. They escape, joined by the man's mistress-accomplice Claudia (Angel). In Reno whom does Roy encounter after 17 years but still- champion and still hustler Ernie?

I'll take your questions now.

Q: Wasn't this movie made by the "Dumb and Dumber" fellows? A: Yes. "D & D" was the first feature by Peter Farrelly who also scripted with brother Bobby and Bennet Yellin. "Kingpin" is co-directed by the brothers. Q: They didn't write it this time? A: No. The writers come from TV (it shows in a thousand ways, from stuck-in jokes to disconnections). One (Nathan) is a Chicagoan with a B.A. in TV production from the University of Illinois. Q: Is "Kingpin" another dumb-dumber comedy? A: Not quite. Ishmael does qualify and is incredibly otherworldly. At the start Roy is just young, naive, not wise to manipulation by Ernie. Ernie is a monster of duplicitous and hypocritical nastiness, and the essence of vulgarity. Q: Doesn't the plot remind you of "The Hustler" and its sequel "The Color of Money?" A: Of course, plus several other movies about hustles. But you said "plot" and there really isn't one. The whole film is put together as a string of episodes whose connections are either dubious or illogical. Q: Yet it's a comedy? A: It is, but a dark one, with black humor worked into many broad, slapstick, cartoonish gags, almost all gross. Q: How broad, how gross? A: Just a few examples. Item: Roy, owing money to his landlady, invents a scam which makes her grateful. But he is soon caught and the woman exacts sex -- after which Roy vomits. Item: Passing for Amish, Roy is told to milk a cow. He "milks" a bull. Item: Asked to take the shoes off a horse he saws off its hooves. Item: Apparently the Amish don't know about modern conveniences, so Ishmael sits on an urinal to defecate. Item: Claudia works her sexual charms on people, but not on a farmer, who brightens up when given a sheep for carnal purposes. Item: In Reno, Ishmael in drag, as an exotic dancer (Don't ask). Item: Roy has the vision of a gay gambler offering one million bucks for one night with Ishmael. (Remember "Indecent Proposal?" which co-starred Woody Harrelson?) Item: Ernie promotes on TV his Fund for Fatherless Children while fondling lasciviously their pretty mothers. Item: A line from The Good People at the Tobacco Industry who protest "If you're dead, you can't smoke." Item: Jokes about Roy's metal fingers and the rubber glove that covers his hand. At the end he will do publicity for Trojan condoms. Q: Well, some of this sounds funny. A: Some yes, but in a depressing way. The street rumor (what reviewers said) was overall "Bad film but kept me laighing." I laughed only a few times, and against my better judgment. But mostly I was aghast. Q: At what? A: At the cheap shots. At the jaundiced view of all people; at the misogynism (women are shown and photographed unflatteringly, in character and body parts); at the semi-ridicule of the Amish (in a reverse sort of "Witness"); at Claudia's morals; at the repulsive bowlers and audiences; and so on... Q: Are there no OK gags? A: Very few, but still misanthropic. Early on, Ernie in a restaurant imperiously ordering a waitress to return after she has removed her perfume. Or making a visual pass at one of the girls at a nearby table. One girl smiles back. "Not you" he says cruelly. Q: So nothing is subtle? A: Nothing, unless you go for in-jokes. Ishmael comes from "Moby Dick" with the Reno prize as the whale. Roy Munson sounds like Charles Manson (the mass murderer) and refers you to Harrelson in "Natural Born Killers." He tells the Amish that his name is Ezekiel Maltin (or so I remember), Maltin being a TV movie critic and film guidebook editor.

Q: Are the actors good?

A: For the improbable roles they play, yes, in a morose fashion.

Q: To see or not to see?

A: Depends on the tolerance of your budget and I.Q. I certainly did not think highly of the movie, but I neither did I feel trapped by it.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel