Let’s Go Bowling!
With the recent political talk about how bowling speaks to what America stands for, I thought a look at some of the most popular – and interesting – movies about bowling were in order.
KINGPINS, THE DUDE, AN ORDINARY LEAGUE AND A SLIMEBALL!
You might not think about bowling much, but if you do, you will uncover some terrific movies about the sport. I found one big smash hit, a cult classic, one fascinating documentary, and a “Slimeball Bowl-A-Rama”. I’d say I bowled a perfect game!
Kingpin – 1996
After “Dumb and Dumber” and “There’s Something About Mary”, the Farrelly Brothers win streak continued with this hilarious bowling film, starring Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid and Bill Murray.
Harrelson is Roy Munson, who was raised to be the best bowler in the world. Hilarious circumstances leave him with one hand and a bad drinking problem.
Redemption comes via Randy Quaid, who plays Ishmael – who is Amish and sneaks away from the farm to bowl. Roy convinces Ishmael to let him be his trainer and he’ll make him the best bowler the world has ever seen. Woody pretends to be Amish in order to win him over…with disasterous consequences.
Roy: Hey, I hope you don’t mind, I got up a little early, so I took the liberty of milking your cow for you. Yeah, it took a little while to get her warmed up, she sure is a stubborn one. Then, POW, all at once.
[Takes a drink from the bucket]
Mr. Boorg: We don’t have a cow. We have a bull.
Roy: I’ll brush my teeth.
Reluctantly Ishmael agrees to go on the road and shortly afterwards actually finds that life outside the farm is quite fun. Soon their paths cross that of champion bowler Ernie McCracken, played with a brilliant deadpan and magical comb-over by Bill Murray.
ESPN Announcer: So Roy, where have you been for the last fifteen years?
Roy: Well, I uh, well, ya see, I uh… Drinking. Lot a drinking.
ESPN Announcer: I see. Well, are you still drinking?
Roy: No. I uh… I put… uh… Why, you buying?
Of course, this all leads to a climactic bowl-off….
[Roy Munson is getting ready for his turn to bowl]
Ernie McCracken: It all comes down to this roll. Roy Munson, a man-child, with a dream to topple bowling giant Ernie McCracken. If he strikes, he’s the 1979 Odor-Eaters Champion. He’s got one foot in the frying pan and one in the pressure cooker. Believe me, as a bowler, I know that right about now, your bladder feels like an overstuffed vacuum cleaner bag and your butt is kinda like an about-to-explode bratwurst.
Roy: Hey. Do you mind? I wasn’t talking when you were bowling.
Ernie McCracken: Was I talking out loud? Was I? Sorry. Good luck.
There is SO much to love about “Kingpin”: terrific acting, hilarious set pieces, memorable characters, and of course, BOWLING…
Sorority Babes In The Slimeball Bowl-A-Rama – 1988.
Now, from the other end of the spectrum: 80′s horror meets exploitation head on, with a touch of Linnea Quigly, legendary “scream queen!”
As if it’s important, here is the plot: “There are no freshmen in the college of love and they’re about to graduate to madcap mayhem when a sorority initiation prank goes crazy. Out to steal a trophy from a local bowling alley the kids accidentally unleash the imp a sadistic little spirit with a diabolical sense of humor.”
MEET “THE IMP!”
“The Imp” was the original title, but come on: “Sorority Babes In The Slimeball Bowl-A-Rama” is classic!
Here is some trivia, courtesy of IMDB: The budget was too low to rent the bowling alley during peak daytime hours, so the cast and crew had to wait till the bowling alley closed at 9pm, then shot all night till 9am.
Spider: What is this, Midnight Wimp Bowling League?
Taffy: Who are you? The Bride of Dracula?
Spider: Oooo. Jump back. Prom queen on the loose. Or is it high school hookers?
The Imp: “Old Uncle Impy is just a little bit cranky. No fun being locked up, especially in a bowling trophy.”
The alley itself, Boloplex Superlanes (Sacramento, CA) is now a public swimming pool and steam room.
This isn’t a classic film by any stretch, but can you really go wrong for showing off a movie with a title like this?
A League Of Ordinary Gentlemen – 2004.
I love documentaries, especially when they expose a little-seen world – like the world of the professional bowler. This film is a fascinating look at this world…
Here is what IMDB says about it: “Tracing the historical arc of the professional bowling tour, the film includes archival footage from the sport’s glory days in the 1950s and ’60s, through its near extinction in 1997. The story takes a twist when newly installed CEO Steve Miller sets about modernizing the Professional Bowlers Association.”
In addition to Miller, the chronicle focuses on four pro bowlers: Pete Weber, bowling bad-boy and son of legendary bowler Dick Weber whose conservative style doesn’t jibe with the direction Miller is taking the new PBA. Pete’s nemesis is Walter Ray Williams Jr., a straight-laced six-time world horseshoe-pitching champion and, with 36 PBA titles to his name, the dominant player on the tour.
Also, there’s Chris Barnes, a young father of newborn twins, who must leave his wife and sons at home and hit the road to compete for the winnings that his young family is depending upon.
This terrific documentary shows what happens when three Microsoft engineers decide to buy the Professional Bowlers’ Association for $5m in the hopes of reviving the sport. With the help of a former Nike executive, Steve Miller, the sport is given a makeover for the 21st century. Some bowlers are skeptical, and some delusional, yet the PBA tour regains a t.v. contract with ESPN. Long days on the road, loneliness, paltry paychecks, and the hope of redemption and riches that fuel these men on make it an interesting movie.
Really interesting, a bit sad – and a look at a sport struggling to stay relevant…
The Big Lebowski – 1998.
And then, there is “The Dude!”
The Coen Brothers have made Oscar winners (No Country For Old Men), instant classics (Fargo), screwball comedies (Raising Arizona, O Brother, Where Art Thou?), intimate dramas (The Man Who Wasn’t There, A Serious Man), offbeat noir (Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink), and a classic western (True Grit).
And of course, the greatest stoner cult classic of all time: The Big Lebowski. Meet Jeff Bridges, AKA The Dude.
When “The Dude” Lebowski is mistaken for a millionaire Lebowski, two thugs urinate on his rug to coerce him into paying a debt he knows nothing about. While attempting to gain recompense for the ruined rug from his wealthy counterpart, he accepts a one-time job with high pay-off.
He enlists the help of his bowling buddy, Walter, a gun-toting Jewish-convert with anger issues. Walter is played brilliantly by John Goodman.
Deception leads to more trouble, and it soon seems that everyone from porn empire tycoons to nihilists want something from The Dude.
Before filming a scene, Jeff Bridges would frequently ask the Coen Brothers “Did the Dude burn one on the way over?” If they said he had, he would rub his knuckles in his eyes before doing a take.
Maude Lebowski: What do you do for recreation?
The Dude: Oh, the usual. I bowl. Drive around. The occasional acid flashback.
The Dude was based on independent film promoter Jeff Dowd (aka Jeff “The Dude” Dowd), who helped the Coen brothers secure distribution for their first feature, Blood Simple.. Like his fictional counterpart, Dowd was a member of the Seattle Seven and takes a casual approach to grooming and dress.
[being forced into a limousine]
The Dude: Hey, careful, man, there’s a beverage here!
The word “dude” is used around 161 times in the movie. 160 spoken and once in text in the credits for “Gutterballs” the second dream sequence.
And of course, John Turturro is brilliant as “Jesus”, a rival bowler…
All of this terrific trivia was found at IMDB, including my favorite: In a version that was edited for television broadcasts, the famous line “This is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass!” was changed to “This is what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps!”, which is regularly cited as one of the most “creative” edits made for a film to be aired on TV.
Walter Sobchak: “Fuck it, Dude, let’s go bowling.”
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