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‘Kingpin’ vs. ‘Lebowski’: Both bowling films may be right down your alley

Woody Harrelson stars in the bowling movie "Kingpin"
Woody Harrelson stars in the bowling movie "Kingpin"
Charley Gallay / Getty Images

This story originally ran Sept. 6, 2012 and is being re-run with a postscript.

Perhaps I was wrong.

Writers generally don't like to admit mistakes, so this doesn’t come easily for me.

But after I wrote that “Kingpin” rates ahead of “The Big Lebowski” in the battle of funny bowling movies, not everyone agreed that I picked the better film.

And when it comes to bowling – whether it’s movies, quizzes, news, tournaments or profiles – it’s important to get the facts straight.

Here’s some background:

– “Kingpin” is a 1996 slapstick movie that was directed by the Farrelly brothers. It stars Woody Harrelson (shown in photo), Randy Quaid, Vanessa Angel and Bill Murray.

The movie follows Roy Munson (Harrelson), who won the 1979 Iowa state amateur bowling championships and plans to leave his small Iowa hometown to join the Professional Bowlers Assn. tour. Alas, he suffers a devastating hand injury after he is caught hustling by some unsavory characters. Harrelson starts wearing a prosthetic hook that is covered with a fake rubber hand. Still, he maintains his ties to the bowling world and seeks his fortune in that sport.

– “The Big Lebowski” came out two years later; the comedy was written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Jeff Bridges stars as Jeff Lebowski, an unemployed slacker in L.A. and an avid bowler who refers to himself as “The Dude.” Lebowski enjoys hanging out with his bowling buddies that includes security-store owner Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) and ex-surfer Donny (Steve Buscemi). Lebowski’s life, however, goes on a roller-coaster ride after two gangsters break into his Venice bungalow.

It’s a crime-caper story that revolves around mistaken identity and showcases mini-plots of extortion and deception.

Bravo’s list of 100 funniest movies recognizes both films, rating “The Big Lebowski” as No. 31 and “Kingpin” as No. 67.

Movie buff and veteran bowler Tom Martino states unequivocally that “The Big Lebowski” edges out “Kingpin” as his favorite.

“The Big Lebowski,” says Martino, simply is the funnier movie. “It has better acting and it’s funnier throughout,” said Martino of Chatsworth. “ ‘Kingpin’ has funny moments, but it has low points and doesn’t carry through the entire way.

“I like Jeff Bridges and John Goodman. It has a lot of good characters. ‘The Big Lebowski’ beats out ‘Kingpin’ by a little bit. ‘Kingpin’ has moments that aren’t funny. It’s more of a drama thing.”

There’s no disputing that “The Big Lebowski” has some prominent performers. Besides Bridges, Goodman and Buscemi, others playing key roles include David Huddleston, Julianne Moore, Tara Reid, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ben Gazzara.

“The Big Lebowski” actually was a disappointment at the box office but through the years has been treated more kindly and has become somewhat of a cult favorite, says Wikipedia, citing its “idiosyncratic characters, dream sequences, unconventional dialogue and eclectic soundtrack.”

Added Martino: “If you watch ‘Kingpin,’ you might watch it a second time. But you might watch ‘Lebowski’ over and over and pass it on to your friends and that’s an indicator of which is the better movie.”

Martino estimates he’s seen “Kingpin” twice and “The Big Lebowski” about 10 times.

Still, I found “Kingpin” more hilarious, but I’ll be willing to say this: Watch both of them. If you have a sense of humor and you like bowling (and even if you don’t), you stand to enjoy many laugh-out-loud moments.

Postscript: The “Lebowski Fest” will celebrate the “The Big Lebowski” movie during L.A.-festivities this weekend. The fest will kick off Friday with a movie party and screening of “The Big Lebowski” at the Wiltern Theater in L.A. This event is already sold out. But there still are tickets available for a ‘‘Lebowski’’ bowling party, which will be held Saturday night from 8 to midnight at Fountain Bowl in the Orange County city of Fountain Valley. For more information, contact Fountain Bowl at 714-963-7888.

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