Kingpin (12)

THE JOKES come thick and fast in this quirky comedy, which can only be described as Witness meets White Men Can’t Jump but set around the world of American ten-pin bowling.

If darts is Britain’s saddest sport, dominated by overweight players and followed by boozy, noisy fans, then ten-pin bowling is the American equivalent.

In Kingpin (1hr 55mins) Woody Harrelson buries his lean frame beneath a paunch, a false rubber hand and an outrageous comb-over hairstyle as a former ten-pin champ turned conman who promotes a naive Amish man who just happens to be a world-class ten-pin player.

If it sounds bizarre, it is. What’s more, it’s directed by the Farrelly brothers, the same guys who gave us Dumb and Dumber, and is very, very, VERY funny.

Harrelson is Roy Munson, the small-town boy whose one shot at the big time ended abruptly when he defeated Big Ern McCracken (Bill Murray) in the 1979 Odor Eaters Championship. McCracken gets his revenge by conning the gullible Roy into a bowling hustle, and then leaving him stranded when the locals get wise.

Roy is left to face the music, and it’s about as bad as it gets; the Mob feed his hand into the ball return machine and turn it into mush…

Seventeen years on Roy’s name has become a byword for failure, and he’s been reduced to working as a bowling supply salesman. The glory days are a distant memory.

Then he comes across Ishmael (Randy Quaid), an Amish farmer who quietly steals into bowling alleys and just happens to be the best bowler Roy has ever seen.

This odd couple team up and head for Reno where, with the help of streetwise hustler Claudia (Vanessa Angel), they aim to take on the best at the million-dollar bowling tournament where the kingpin is none other than Big Ern McCracken…

The magic of this hysterical road movie-with-a-difference is that ten-pin bowling, and the characters it attracts, are so inherently funny on their own. What Harrelson, Murray and Co do is accentuate the bizarre qualities with a string of spot-on jokes and 24-carat throwaway one-liners.

They effortlessly ridicule both the players and the fans in a sport where a ‘rose in glass’ bowling bowl gets a standing ovation, while providing solid characterisations for all four principals.

Harrelson throws himself into his role with relish, and is a comic revelation. Quaid brings heart and sincerity to the terminally naive Ishmael. Angel is supremely sassy and very attractive.

But it is Bill Murray who takes the honours. A natural comedian who could read a baked bean can and make it funny, he revels in the funniest script he’s had in years and just dominates the film.

It’s rare that all the ingredients come together in a comedy, but this one is a killer. The humour is not always altogether palatable, but it never fails to hit the mark. What’s more, it’s far funnier than anything which has come out in the past two years.

Laugh? I thought my legs would never dry.

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