Beginning with a bit of back story, Kingpin details Woody Harrelson’s character, Roy, and his ascent to bowling royalty and his fast undoing. Jump to something like fifteen years later, a bunch of hair loss and a fair amount of booze and Roy’s life hocking ammeneties as a traveling salesman seems like a bummer. On his rounds, though, the guy lucks upon a talented bowler, who happens to be an Omish dude, played by Randy Quaid. His character, Ishmael, is reticent to embrace bowling for cash, but some bizarre tax problem necessitates him to leave his cloistered community and become a sinner, kinda.
Taking two uniquely American sub-cultures – that of bowling and the freaky religious group – and weaving a comedic tail through the excess and abstinence of sex and drugs, makes the Farrelly’s funny, but also pretty culturally astute. What I don’t think anyone else has commented upon at length, is the fact that most Americans, while also the spawn of these environments, kind of look down on the austere Amish and pilsner swilling league bowlers. Is there another professional sport whose stars aren’t really looked upon as beacons of success – even Nascar’s ridiculously popular.
Either way, after Roy coaches Ishmael a bit, the two go out and hustle on the road, working to make enough money to get to Reno for a tournament. The winnings would save Ishmael’s community and probably give Roy a second shot at making bowling his profession – somehow. Along the way, they’re joined by a broad whose acting career was more predicated on her looks than talent. That’s how it goes – although the character does augment the proceedings a bit along the way.
What’s funny is Harrelson’s ability to so perfectly inhabit a skevy loser. It’s wasn’t the traditional role for an actor of his caliber at the time. But for the guy to take a chance like that only points to the weird comedic power the Farrelly brothers wield.