A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that one video release of this was re-rated R by the MPAA. Even the PG-13 edition is exceptionally ribald (think the Austin Powers series, though with gags executed on a somewhat smarter level). Sex jokes abound, some as explicit as women's breasts groped, others requiring more thinking-through (and potential explaining to kids). Plenty of swearing happens as well, plus drinking and gambling (sports betting especially). Many jokes touch on the religious-based life of Amish sects, and while they are rarely mean-spirited attacks (the Amish are the nicest characters in the ensemble) they do tend to prop up stereotypical views.
What's the story?
Roy Munson (Woody Harrelson), a rising star in Pennsylvania bowling leagues in the 1970s goes against cocky champ Ernie McCracken (Bill Murray). McCracken tempts him into running a scam that gets poor Munson so roughly handled that his bowling hand is torn off (non-explicitly), replaced by a hook, which he covers with a grotesque rubber hand. More than a decade later Munson's name is synonymous with failure. While on a futile trip to sell bowling supplies, he encounters Ishmael (Randy Quaid), an Amish youth who secretly practices bowling. A million-dollar bowl-off in Reno against the hated McCracken makes Munson go to extremes (like trying to pass as Amish) to enter Ish in the tournament. But Ish isn't as good a bowler as first thought, and that's just the beginning of their travails. After an altercation at a mobster's private alley, they flee with the tough guy's sexy moll (Vanessa Angel), who competes with Munson to control guileless Ish's destiny.
Is it any good?
KINGPIN is the Farrelly Brothers at their more inventive, with sneaky, imaginative, and beautifully timed gags. If you want gross-out humor, this is the brand that works best because it usually (not always) just hints at the extreme stuff, rather than showing too much (although Harrelson's vomiting scenes do tend to go a little far). The gradual corruption of the unworldly Amish "lad" (the burly Quaid is anything but boyish, yet acts the part of a naive innocent beautifully) is hysterical, yet refrains from being actually offensive, since he remains a fundamentally decent person throughout, and his Bible-centered lifestyle (or at least the naivete borne out of it) works a change in the morality of the impious characters of Roy and "whore" Claudia.
Bill Murray's sleazoid villain is a real scene-stealer, and the finale neatly reverses what viewers have come to expect from an "underdog" sports-flick ending, even in goofball comedies like Dodgeball. The longer-than-typical running time for a comedy might make some viewers restless, if they aren't as caught up in the craziness.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the ending of the movie -- which goes against the grain of standard rah-rah sports movies about who wins and who loses. Who is indeed the real winner here? Also, a big part of the humor centers around the innocent Amish character meeting bad behavior in the modern world. What other fish-out-of-water comedies can you think of? Are there some that are more family-friendly than this one?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.