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'Kingpin': Bowl-You-Over Yucks

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 27, 1996

Directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly -- the brains, if you will, behind "Dumb and Dumber" -- reach new lows in vulgarity with the coarse, edgy "Kingpin." Set in the gutters and alleys of America's bowling milieu, this effort is not only grosser than the 1994 farce, it's also smarter. Admittedly, that wouldn't take much.

In its own ghastly way, "Kingpin" is a stupid art movie: the "Pulp Fiction" of the dumb genre. Without a doubt, mainstream moviegoers will be revolted by the nastiness of it all. Those with more arcane tastes, on the other hand, will laugh themselves sick.

Or just get sick.

In one memorable scene, a city slicker takes a big gulp from a bucket, only to discover that it's not a cow but a bull he's just milked. Never has the word "gag" been more pertinent.

Writers Barry Fanaro and Mort Nathan of TV's "The Golden Girls" have strayed far beyond the boundaries of menopausal sitcom, although their protagonist, bowling prodigy Roy Munson (Woody Harrelson), definitely undergoes a dramatic change of life. Roy, an innocent Iowa bowling champion, appears bound for stardom when he defeats "Big Ern" McCracken (show-stealing Bill Murray) at the Odor Eaters Championship in 1979. Big Ern enacts his revenge, leaving Roy to deal with an angry mob the pair hustled after their title game. Then, in a grisly twist worthy of Quentin Tarantino, the toughs grind off Munson's hand in a ball-return machine.

When the story catches up with him 17 years later, the one-handed Roy is barely getting by as a bowling equipment salesman. A paunchy drunk with a cheap rubber prosthesis, Roy sinks to an all-time low when obliged to work off his rent by sexually servicing his hag of a landlady (Lin Shaye). This leads to a protracted vomiting sequence that makes Jeff Daniels's diarrhea scene in "Dumb and Dumber" seem like a Merchant-Ivory production.

But this is a story of redemption, and help is on the way in the form of Ishmael (one-note Randy Quaid), an Amish kid who becomes Roy's protege. Certain he's found his ticket back to fame and fortune, Roy gets Ishmael to enter a $1 million tourney in Reno, Nev. Along the way, they team up with Claudia (Vanessa Angel), a moll on the lam from her gangster beau.

The road sequences have a surprisingly sweet spin, and predictably the three grow closer as they make their way from Pennsylvania Dutch country to the polyester carnival at Reno's Bowlarama. But just when things are getting all touchy-feely, the Farrellys fear they have spared us too much and make a beeline for the outhouse.

Kingpin is rated PG-13 for scatological humor and drug use.

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