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Kingpin Blu-ray Review

Kingpin (1996) movie poster Kingpin

Theatrical Release: July 26, 1996 / Running Time: 114 Minutes (theatrical), 117 Minutes (extended) / Rating: PG-13 (theatrical), R (extended)

Directors: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly / Writers: Barry Fanaro, Mort Nathan

Cast: Woody Harrelson (Roy E. Munson), Randy Quaid (Ishmael Boorg), Vanessa Angel (Claudia), Bill Murray (Ernie "Big Ern" McCracken), Chris Elliott (The Gambler), William Jordan (Mr. Boorg), Richard Tyson (Owner of Stiffy's), Lin Shaye (Landlady), Zen Gesner (Thomas Boorg), Prudence Wright Holmes (Mrs. Boorg), Rob Moran (Stanley Osmanski), Daniel Greene (Calvert Munson), Will Rothhaar (Young Roy Munson)

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The first film written and directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly -- Dumb and Dumber (1994) -- was a big hit, and the high point at least commercially for Jim Carrey's phenomenal breakout year. The next film both written and directed by the
Rhode Island-raised brothers -- There's Something About Mary -- was an even bigger hit, registering as 1998's third biggest blockbuster domestically, behind Saving Private Ryan and Armageddon. In between those extremely profitable and well-reviewed comedies, the Farrellys directed but did not write Kingpin (1996).

Kingpin's reception could not have been much further removed from those of the siblings' prior and subsequent film. This bowling comedy divided critics down the middle, with few taking a strong liking to it. It also bombed in theaters, grossing just $25 million (the equivalent of $46.1 M at today's ticket prices) in just under 2,000 locations. The brothers rebounded in a huge way with Mary but have yet to recreate that same kind of success and popularity. The closest they have come was early in the 2000s on Me, Myself & Irene and Shallow Hal, two films given mixed reviews and not terribly loved by the public.

Since Hal, the brothers have been pretty reliable, though not terribly remarkable. Each of their films has grossed $30-$45 million domestic with or without star power. Each has also wound up in the mediocre 5.0-5.9 range of average user ratings on IMDb, whether critics have express slight fondness (Stuck On You, Fever Pitch) or slightly less so (The Heartbreak Kid, Hall Pass). They have not been big Hollywood power players since 2001 and their next film, Dumb and Dumber To, seems way too untimely to boost them back to relevance and public favor.

Though a complete non-starter in theaters, Kingpin has developed something of a cult following over the years. On IMDb, its respectable 6.9 user rating ranks it third among the Farrellys' narrative features, not too far behind the original Dumber (7.3) and Mary (7.1).

The 1996 comedy "Kingpin" stars Woody Harrelson as Roy Munson, an Iowa state champion bowler who loses his hand.

The film opens in the rural town of Ocelot, Iowa in 1969. There, a young boy named Roy Munson bowls on an isolated homemade lane to encouragement from his father. We jump ahead ten years to find Roy (now Woody Harrelson) the pride of his hometown and the state's amateur bowling champion. Unfortunately, Roy's celebrity is short-lived. He takes the advice of his adversary Ernie McCracken (Bill Murray) and turns to hustling small town folk in bowling alleys to supplement his winnings. His first experience at this racket does not go well. Ditched by Ernie to fend for himself, Roy loses his hand in a ball return by the force of the angry mob he just swindled. His bright bowling career is immediately over.

Now, in then-present day Pennsylvania, Roy sports a hook, which he occasionally covers with a rubber prosthetic hand. He has a beer belly and a combover and he spends far more of his time drinking than selling bowling alley supplies. During one such unsuccessful pitch, Roy discovers a raw talent in the form of Ishmael Boorg (Randy Quaid), a tall, unbearded Amish man with a blonde bowl cut and a friendly disposition. Roy offers to be Ishmael's bowling manager. Ishmael resists, until his family's farm is threatened with foreclosure and in need of half a million dollars, the exact amount Roy promises can be won under his tutelage.

The two men hit the road for some hustling, their paths eventually crossing with Claudia (Vanessa Angel), the girlfriend of a wealthy big shot who hosts private high-stakes game in his mansion's lanes. She adds her feminine wiles to Roy's experience and Ishmael's burgeoning talent, giving the trio some earnings and confidence as they make their way to the big tournament in Reno. There, Ernie McCracken is oily as ever and after Ishmael injures his rolling hand, Roy might just be due for a return to the game he once loved.

With a little convincing, Amish farmer Ishmael Boorg (Randy Quaid) agrees to try his hand at professional bowling. Claudia (Vanessa Angel) becomes the third member of their party, using her looks to help their bowling alley hustle.

Kingpin turned 18 over the summer and it's starting to show its age.
It is clearly a Farrelly Brothers comedy and as such proves to be characteristically hit and miss. It definitely has its moments, a number of them featuring Murray as the wicked McCracken. It also has gross-out gags you could do without, like scenes featuring a bucket full of bull semen, a veiny and lascivious old landlord (Lin Shaye), and a cringeworthy introduction to flossing. These kinds of outrageous moments are perhaps the defining feature of the Farrellys' oeuvre, but they're just not all that well-executed here or funny.

What I noticed this time and not on my previous viewing of the film around twelve years ago is that Kingpin is absolutely an analog comedy. You can see its type of storytelling and style as comparing to the kinds of movies Chevy Chase and John Candy were making about a decade earlier. There's far less of the hard-R content you get in today's big comedies from the likes of Judd Apatow and Todd Phillips.

The Farrellys repeatedly make use of montages, which they pull off quite well. They also fill the movie with licensed music new and old, another element common in their work (as usual, they lean heavily on songs from the late '60s, their coming-of-age years). The brothers displayed their penchant for celebrity cameos here, with Roger Clemens popping up as a character and Blues Traveler playing in Amish country for the end credits. The movie is kind of random like that and doesn't land the big laughs that the early movies of SNL alums such as Adam Sandler and Chris Farley were earning at the same time. Nonetheless, though uneven, Kingpin remains fairly enjoyable with its sympathetic leads and classical gotta-save-the-family-farm story.

Previously released to DVD by theatrical distributor MGM, Kingpin somehow made its Blu-ray debut today alongside a new DVD as a rare catalog title from Paramount Home Media. On the Blu-ray at least, the studio kindly makes the film available in both its original PG-13 theatrical cut and the R-rated extended cut that had been the only way to watch the film on DVD. Achieved via seamless branching, the extended version runs three and a half minutes longer, a difference that is comprised of a number of minor and sometimes subtle changes, with a slight increase in crudeness.

Kingpin Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Surround 2.0 (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Video Extras Subtitled
Release Date: October 14, 2014
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $21.99
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Glittery Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($14.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video
Previously released as MGM DVD (May 18, 1999)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Kingpin looks good on Blu-ray, which is no surprise for a Paramount release. As I mentioned above, you can clearly tell the film predates the digital age. Its 2.40:1 presentation is agreeable but not without some minor issues like some questionable color timing and minute imperfections. It also definitely does not offer the clarity and polish of today's new films. Still, I'm confident that this 1080p transfer handily bests the 480i one found on the 15-year-old DVD.

Likewise, the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio doesn't boast the impact of today's sound mixes. But you don't expect a powerhouse home theater experience from a 1990s comedy and this track serves the material well, keeping dialogue crisp and music lively.

At a bowling alley, Bobby and Peter Farrelly reflect on their second film in the brand new retrospective "Kingpins: Extra Frames with the Farrelly Brothers." While the cover art recreates the theatrical poster design, MGM's DVD cover art serves as the Blu-ray's static top menu image.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

In addition to the two cuts of the film, Kingpin is joined by three bonus features.

Most notable is "Kingpins: Extra Frames with the Farrelly Brothers" (19:14), an all-new HD retrospective. At a bowling alley, directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly reminisce why they made it when they did and how it all came together.

They recall assembling the cast, with a pool shot securing Bobby's former roommate Woody Harrelson, an inability to land Chris Farley prompting them to get Randy Quaid, and Quaid leading them straight to the elusive Bill Murray, who they feared might not show up but brought his A-game. They explain how they cast Lin Shaye after mistaking her for a homeless person. In addition to some behind-the-scenes footage from production, the piece includes 1995 set interviews with Harrelson, Quaid, and Murray, as well as the brothers, who either stand by their remarks or revise them ("plots are for pussies"). They also dish on who in the cast could really bowl and who couldn't. It's a really excellent addition and something we just about never see produced for a catalog movie these days outside of Criterion.

Recycled from DVD is Peter and Bobby Farrelly's 1998 audio commentary exclusively on the extended cut. They are strangely determined to identify every actor and location, no matter how briefly seen. They're certainly informative, just surprisingly not so much fun. They occasionally interest with topics like Murray's ad-libbed script improvements, an MPAA line objection, how the story changed shape on the fly, why they cast their friends instead of actors, and continuity gaffes.

Finally, Kingpin's original theatrical trailer (1:27) is kindly preserved in high definition.

The simple, silent, static menu uses the film's previous cover art imagery. The Blu-ray lets you set bookmarks on both cuts of the film, but does not allow you to resume unfinished playback beyond that.

The plain blue disc is held in an eco-friendly keepcase which is topped by a slipcover which applies glittery effects to a border, its spines and elements on all four of its sides.

Bill Murray steals the movie repeatedly as Ernie "Big Ern" McCracken, Roy's rival with a wild combover and a flamboyant rose-suspending bowling ball.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Even with arguably the greatest comic actor of all time supplying occasional antagony, Kingpin can't rise above the "pretty okay" range where almost all Farrelly Brothers films reside. Diverting moments more or less cancel out a number of grotesque bodily gags. The end result is something breezy yet long that many would probably enjoy to revisit every ten years or so.

Paramount's Blu-ray is a pleasant surprise. While a fine feature presentation has long been expected of the studio, the mere release of this catalog disc with both edits of the film and a substantial new retrospective to boot at this time from this studio is bizarre, mysterious, and wonderful. It's the kind of action Blu-ray collectors should reward and encourage, so long as this is a movie they'd like to own.

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Farrellys: Hall Pass The Heartbreak Kid The Three Stooges Movie 43
Woody Harrelson: Semi-Pro Defendor No Country for Old Men The Hunger Games Zombieland Now You See Me Seven Psychopaths
Bill Murray: Ed Wood Rushmore Caddyshack Scrooged Get Smart | Randy Quaid: Home on the Range | Lin Shaye: Insidious
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Reviewed October 14, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1996 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Rysher Entertainment, Motion Picture Corporation of America,
and 2014 Paramount Home Media Distribution. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.