Kingpin (film)

Kingpin is a 1996 Farrelly brothers film starring Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid, Vanessa Angel, and Bill Murray. It was filmed in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as a stand-in for Scranton, Amish country and even Reno, Nevada. As with typical Farrelly brothers movies, such as Dumb & Dumber, most of the film's humor is gross out and slapstick.


Kingpin begins with Woody Harrelson as Roy Munson, a child bowling prodigy who won the 1979 Iowa state amateur championship. Young Roy is all set to leave his tiny hometown of Ocelot, Iowa to go on the professional bowling tour. He wins his first tournament, defeating a none-too-pleased Ernie McCracken (Bill Murray) in the finals. Roy receives an oversized check and the emnity of McCracken.

The unhappy McCracken decides to get back at the young bowler, first by putting sugar in his gas tank, then convincing him to join him in a bowling-alley hustle. Munson needs money to repair his car engine, so he agrees. The scheme goes horribly awry. Roy is abandoned by the opportunistic McCracken and their "marks" shove Roy's right hand into a ball-return, amputating it.

In the present, a down-and-out Munson, sporting a hook which he covers with a fake rubber hand, sells bowling alley supplies with little success. He lives in a seedy apartment building in Scranton, Pennsylvania along with several winos and a landlady who is constantly after Roy because he never pays his rent on time.

On a sales call, Munson catches sight of Ishmael Boorg (Randy Quaid) rolling a respectable game. Munson tries to get him to turn pro, since he has a "265 or 270" average. The Amish man has little interest in worldly affairs, though -- he isn't even supposed to be bowling, as it is against Amish tradition.

Munson's troubles increase after he tries to scam his elderly landlady into a rent extension. In the end he has to pay in kind -- with sex. While puking in a toilet after prostituting himself, Roy sees a headline on a bowling magazine that alerts him to a $1,000,000 purse in a tournament in Reno, Nevada. Once again, he tries to convince Ishmael to become a pro -- this time by posing as an Amish from Ohio named "Hezekiah" Munson and visiting the Boorg family home. Ishmael again refuses, but soon receives news from his father that the family will lose their land unless $500,000 can be raised soon. The faithful Amish man reluctantly agrees to go along, only to earn enough to save his people.

It is soon apparent that Ismael isn't as awesome as his "270" average would indicate. He explains that he normally rolls a 15-frame game, since Amish do everything half-again as much as everyone else. Roy decides to take Ishmael home, because he no longer believes he can win the $1,000,000. Ishmael convinces Roy to take him to Reno, saying he didn't want to be "Munsoned" out in the middle of nowhere (meaning up the creek without a paddle, much like Roy).

After a little cajoling, Roy convinces Ishmael to bowl for money. Both end up at gangster Stanley's house in the middle of the night. Stanley resorts to using his girlfriend Claudia (Vanessa Angel) as a teasing distraction. It does not work, as Ishmael is incorruptible. After Ishamel wins, Stanley sees Roy handling a roll of fake money. Stanley realizes that the two were betting with money they did not have. Luckily, they are able to escape (the luscious Claudia leading the way), and continue their journey towards Reno, with Ishmael's bowling skills and Claudia's ability to distract male bowlers gaining them a significant cash "stash."

Roy's and Claudia's relationship is testy. It comes to a head one night when Roy tries to escape with Ishmael. After seeing what they have planned, Claudia beats up Roy, causing Ishmael to run away.

On their way to find him, Roy and Claudia stop off in Ocelot, where Roy hasn't been since he left for the pro tour. The town has changed quite a bit since Roy left, and not for the better- most of the people have moved away, all the businesses appear to have been abandoned, and the town is desolate. Roy reminisces sadly while Claudia tries to convince him that his dad, who died 10 years prior (and whose funeral Roy missed), would be proud of him for what he's doing with Ishmael. After Roy insists that he wouldn't, they head back to find Ishmael, who is dancing in drag in a strip club.

After a few more stops, Roy, Ishmael, and Claudia finally reach Reno with $43,000 in their cash stash. While dining at a buffet restaurant, Roy runs into McCracken, who by this time has become a bowling celebrity. McCracken insults Roy, reminds Claudia of an old affair, and infuriates Ishmael to the point where the Amish man takes a swing at him, only for Big Ern to duck. Ishmael punches a wall and break his hand, rendering him unable to bowl.

To make matters worse, Stanley, who has tracked Claudia to Reno, takes her with him. Claudia also takes all of their ill-gotten gains, leaving the two men again broke and confused.

Ishmael decides that they still have a chance to win the $1,000,000 -- if Roy bowls instead of him. After Roy fails to convince Ishmael that his idea is stupid, he decides reluctantly to enter -- only to find his PBA dues are 17 years in arrears and that he can't come up with the $38 he needs to pay them. Fortunately he is able to use his 1979 Iowa State Championship bowling ring as collateral to enter the tournament.

Throughout the tournament, Big Ern rolls through everyone, as expected. He makes the finals...where he meets up with Roy, who has had a Cinderella run through the tournament, bowling with the prosthetic rubber hand and knocking off pro bowlers like Mark Roth and Randy Pedersen. The two bowlers are evenly matched and head into the final frame with Roy ahead by 9 pin margin.

Ishmael is found by his brother Thomas, who has traveled the country on a horse and buggy to find him. A distracted Roy rolls a 7-10 split. He is able to miraculously convert and then roll a strike on his next ball, forcing Big Ern to roll 3 strikes in his final frame...which he does, earning him the $1,000,000 prize and leaving Roy with nothing but a rubber hand.

After a final run-in with Stanley and his goons (Claudia claimed to have run off with Big Ern, prompting Stanley to decide to go after Ern), Roy returns home to find a surprise visitor at his door...Claudia, who arrives with the money she stole(doubled, since Stanley bet on McCracken in the tournament). Though she tries to convince Roy to split it with her and Ishmael, Roy shows her an endorsement check from Trojan condoms for $500,000 (thanks to his fake hand, which earned him the nickname "Rubber Man") and says that the money is going to be split one way.

He promptly gives the check to the Amish community and explains what had happened. Ishmael, who has just returned to the community, walks in and finds his friends. His father tells him what a hero he is to the community for what he has done. (Roy lied and described Ishmael's influence as nothing but positive.) In the end, the community is saved, Roy and Claudia hook up, and the movie ends with an Amish celebration.


The critical reception was mixed and it gets 54% at Rottentomatoes. Roger Ebert had one of the more noteworthy positive reviews, giving it 3.5 out of 4 stars.

This film is number 67 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies".


  • As in the case with some of his films, Bill Murray ad-libbed every line he spoke.
  • During the final tournament at the end, several PBA bowlers make an appearance, including Parker Bohn III and Mark Roth.
  • The movie, save for the tournament scenes in Reno, was mostly shot in the Pittsburgh area, where many actual bowling alleys were used for scenes in the movie.
  • Mars, Pennsylvania plays the role of Roy's hometown of Ocelot, Iowa. It also plays the role of Lancaster, Pennsylvania in other scenes. The scene with Roy attaching his fake rubber hand to his hook in front of Lancaster Bowling Alley is actually Mars Lanes.
  • Munson's hometown of Ocelot does not actually exist.
  • There is a mistake in the tournament finals scene. When Roy Munson bowls the first frame of the final he begins on the right lane approach (lane 26) he then clearly shoots on the left lane (lane 25), but after the shot he is again on the right lane and the machine on the right lane is shown resetting a new set of pins (as if it were the lane he just bowled on).
  • After Roy gets his final strike in the opening sequence set in 1979, he gets high-fived by three of his fans. The first one, in the tan sports jacket, is played by professional golfer Billy Andrade, and the second is played by another pro golfer, Brad Faxon. The third guy to high-five Roy, the tall guy in the paisley shirt, is played by Mark Charpentier, the assistant to co-director Bobby Farrelly.
  • Roy wakes up in Scranton, leaves his boarding house and greets two winos sitting out front. Mike, the one who asks Roy if you can get sick drinking piss, is played by director Michael Corrente (Federal Hill, American Buffalo). Corrente grew up in Rhode Island with the film's director team, brothers Bobby and Peter Farrelly.
  • After Roy has sex with his landlady (Lin Shaye), she puts on her nylons in a parody of Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) in The Graduate. Simon and Garfunkel's The Sound of Silence is heard in the background as well, a reference to their song Mrs. Robinson in the previous film.
  • The Amish construct a barn with Roy, a reference to the Amish barn-raising scene in Witness.
  • Roy makes the Amish barn collapse when he goes to get his food. The two redheaded twin boys sitting on either side of Roy are played by Nicholas and Andrew Greenbury, sons of the film's editor, Christopher Greenbury.
  • As Roy coaches Ishmael, complete with his diagram on the dresser mirror, he is dressed in a red sweater and untucked shirt in a parody of notorious Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight.
  • A redneck named Skidmark sees Ish dancing with his woman and gets mad. Skidmark is played by baseball player Roger Clemens, then pitching for the Boston Red Sox. The character of Skidmark is a not-too-distant cousin of Sea Bass, who was played by professional hockey player Cam Neely of the NHL's Boston Bruins in the Farrelly brothers' Dumb and Dumber. Being from Rhode Island, Boston was the "home team" sports town of the Farrellys, and they often cast local sports heroes in their films.
  • Roy, Ish and Claudia set out to play all kinds of bowlers. First, they face some steelworkers who Claudia distracts. She stands over the ball dryer and her skirt blows up in a parody of Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch.
  • Ish walks alone along the highway, and joyriding Indians zoom past him and throw bags of garbage at him. The camera pans up from the trash to a profound close-up of Ish, one tear rolling down his cheek. This is a reference to the Public Service Announcements with Native American actor Iron Eyes Cody. In the commercial, Cody sees the waste the world is coming to and a lone tear trickles down his face.
  • There is a sign advertising the fictitious ice show Jeffersons on Ice on the hotel when Roy, Claudia and Ish arrive in Reno. The show is even seen when the Gambler approaches Roy and Ish at the bar. These are references to The Best of the Jeffersons, a real-life touring stage version of the popular television sitcom The Jeffersons. The stage show, which began in 1993, featured all of the cast members of the original series.
  • When Roy, Ish and Claudia arrive in Reno, they eat in the Casino restaurant, The Silver Legacy. The waitress who brings them their food is played by actress Joanne Wolfe, the wife of the film's music consultant, Tom Wolfe.
  • Ernie is being interviewed by a television crew in Reno when he first sees Roy. The interviewer is Jane Pratt, the editor of the popular Jane Magazine.
  • The gambler (Chris Elliott) offers Roy one million dollars to sleep with Ish in a parody of Woody Harrelson's film Indecent Proposal. Roy is then seen covered in dollar bills, gleefully throwing them in the air, just as Demi Moore did in Indecent Proposal.
  • The announcer at the tournament is played by John Popper, guitarist, harmonica player and lead singer of the group Blues Traveler. Popper and Blues Traveler are also seen as the Amish rock group performing But Anyway over the end credits.
  • Many of the bowlers that Roy and Ernie compete against in the tournament are real-life pro bowlers.
  • Real-life sportscasters Chris Schenkel and Jon Dennis appear as the commentators in red jackets at the competition. Roy is interviewed by Dennis, a local Boston sports announcer, during the finals.
  • After Roy's interview, a bowler with "Roth" on a blue star on the back of his shirt is seen bowling. The bowler, who later shakes Roy's hand after Roy does the splits, is played by professional bowler Mark Roth.
  • The Chicago-based rock group Urge Overkill sings the national anthem at the bowling tournament finals.
  • A woman runs out on to the lanes and kisses Roy during the finals. She is played by Morganna, known as "the kissing bandit". She has made a name for herself by running out onto sporting arenas (mostly baseball diamonds) and kissing the players.
  • Just as Roy gets ready to bowl, a voice yells out from the crowd, "Attaboy Luther!" This is a reference to one of the Farrelly Brothers' favorite films, Don Knotts' The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. In that film, Luther Heggs (Don Knotts) gets up and makes a speech at a picnic luncheon and a heckler in the crowd calls out "Attaboy, Luther!" a couple of times.
  • The film is dedicated to the memory of Jack Krevoy, the brother of producer Brad Krevoy. Jack, who died during the making of this film, had previously worked on Dumb and Dumber.
  • When Roy first meets Ishmael in the bowling alley Roy helps him to throw a strike. When the ball hits the pins you can see a pole swing down from above the pins, knocking them all down. This may have been because Randy Quaid wasn't a very good bowler and often needed help to make his shots.
  • Will Ferrell can be heard yelling, "Ernie, you da man!" right before Ernie McCracken bowls in the movie's climax.
  • Roy's dilapidated apartment complex in Scranton is an actual row of apartments in Trafford, a suburb of Pittsburgh.

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