1996, NR, 82 min. Directed by Larry Locke.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., May 16, 1997
Pin Gods opens theatrically in Austin following its previous run during the SXSW.97 Film Festival.Even if you're not the kind of person who longs to hear the crackle of a strike or to feel the tight fit of a pair of bowling shoes, you'll nevertheless find Pin Gods right down your alley. A video documentary about life in the fast lanes, this astute, funny, and sly look at the sport that gets no respect traces the experiences of three East Coast rookies trying to hit the big time in a national pro bowling tour. The film's kitsch appeal aside, Pin Gods achieves a near-pathos in its depiction of the ten-pin dreams of these guys -- the most cynical and heartless might consider them to be losers -- and the heartbreak that they endure in trying to realize their aspirations. First, there's the cocksure Bob, the preening pin-up boy who deludes himself into thinking he has class just because he subscribes to Details and GQ. Then there's the bottled-up Sonny, who suffers endless harangues of criticism from an unsupportive, often cruel stepfather every time he bowls a game that is less than perfect. And, finally, there's the somewhat pathetic Tony, a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve and has everything to gain from winning, but misses his big chance simply because he forgets to check his balls. While you might find a little humor in how these three would-be champs frequently fit the game's stereotypes, there's something more going on in Pin Gods. What director Locke has done here is perceptively realize a true-life movie about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, one that thankfully eschews the clichéd heroics and theatrics to which most films about athletic endeavor succumb. (And if you're not acquainted with life in Jersey, Pin Gods also offers a fascinating glimpse of an American subculture.) Punctuating the movie's triad of stories are the rantings and ravings of retired pro bowler Carmen Salvino, a Garry Marshall look- and sound-alike whose staccato-paced delivery nearly requires an interpreter to understand. (Salvino is the real thing… and he's scary.) Although Pin Gods is hardly an upbeat experience -- you really feel for these guys in the end -- it's never a disappointing experience. That is, except for the fact that nobody wears those swell bowling shirts anymore.