Ribald bowling comedy is vintage Farrelly brothers.
  • Review Date: November 9, 2005
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release Year: 1996
  • Running Time: 114 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

In addition to the overall bad behavior shown by Roy, part of the narrative is the gradual introduction of a religious youth to sinful pleasures, like liquor, scamming, smoking, and lapdancers (even though the boy never quite goes wholeheartedly into corruption). A priest (or someone pretending to be one) acts lasciviously toward a sexy blonde. An arrogant sports champ uses his athletic standing for sex, and the climax holds the lesson that good guys don't always finish first. Sports gambling is a major plot component.


Impressionist, non-visual violence as the main character's hand is mutilated. Fistfights and crotch kicks.


The heroine wears a succession of revealing and sexy outfits, in one scene with exaggerated erect nipples under her blouse, in another with her large breasts acting as punching bags. Roy's landlady forces him to have sex with her (we just see the aftermath, with Roy throwing up from disgust); plus a recurring lewd gesture from the landlady that implies oral sex. Beautiful women get fondled on the fanny and on the bosom a lot. A character mistakes a bull for a cow and "milks" it (offscreen). Glimpses of a lapdancer in lingerie, and a hint that a minor character is sexually attracted to farm critters. A fantasy scene puts a homosexual spin on the Woody Harrelson adultery drama Indecent Proposal.


Lots of the s-word; "SOB," "hell," "asshole," "t-ts."


ESPN, bowling-related products and services (the PBA bowling association, in fact, backed this film as a way to make bowling more appealing to the young), beer companies, and a major-name condom manufacturer.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Plenty of smoking and drinking jokes; Roy claims to have been "liquored up for 17 years." A joke about glue-sniffing.

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.

Families can talk 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?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:July 26, 1996
DVD release date:May 18, 1999
Cast:Bill Murray, Randy Quaid, Woody Harrelson
Directors:Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly
Run time:114 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:crude, sex-related humor and a drug scene

This review of Kingpin was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Kid, 12 years old May 28, 2011

don't count on PG-13.

I know, if the PG-13 was on DVD, I would see this movie. However, I did not because after it left theaters, the only version you can find in the US is an extended version that is R-rated (for some crass humor). Just wanted to give that message out.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Adult Written byLowe's man May 15, 2014

not exactly innocent, but with a flair of innocence

This movie is a little too raunchy for kids 16 and under, and there are a few too many sex jokes. But even so, this movie doesn't go as far or as explicit as some movies do. And it has a strong point in that Munson helps Ishmael (the Amish man) discover a world outside his own. In the process Ishmael becomes more worldly while keeping his innocence, proving that it's possible to be both worldly and innocent. (Take it from me. In some ways I fit that description.)


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Star Wars Guide