By Richard Winters
My Rating: 2 out of 10
4-Word Review: Bowling for a living.
Harold Nuttingham (Tim Matheson) who is nicknamed ‘Dreamer’ because of his lofty ambitions of becoming a big league bowler struggles with the demands of the sport and the amount of sacrifice and practice that it takes to be good along with the balancing act of having a relationship with Karen (Susan Blakely) and holding down a job. Eventually with the help of Harry (Jack Warden), who acts as his coach, he’s able to get accepted into a major tournament where he’ll take on the veteran champion Johnny Watkin (played by real-life champion bowler Dick Weber) and prove to a national audience that he truly deserves to be considered one of the best.
It’s truly hard-to-believe how a film like this could’ve been funded by a major studio, or how anyone would think a movie about bowling, a sport with no real cinematic quality to it at all, would be something that people would want to watch, or even take seriously. Sure, it replicates the same Rocky formula, which at the time was quite popular, but what’s next? A small town kid desiring to be the next great badminton champ? Ping Pong? Tiddlywinks?
There’s been other films made about bowling like Kingpin and The Big Lebowski, but those all had a sense of humor to it and some interesting camera shots, but this thing takes it all too seriously and is flatly photographed. Part of the charm of Rocky was seeing him train to become a good boxer, but this film glosses over the training/technique aspect and starts out right away with him already winning a bowling contest and receiving a big trophy, so what’s the point of seeing him receive one trophy after another? Besides the bowling alleys that he plays in all look blah and filled with the same unexciting people making it look like Dreamer really isn’t moving up, but instead perpetually stuck in the same drab small Midwestern town, or one’s just like it, that he came from.
The story needed of some sort of side-plot that could’ve created actual tension that is otherwise completely lacking. It may sound like a sport’s movie cliche, but Dreamer needed a psychological hurdle to overcome, like maybe he had a history of choking under pressure in big games, or possibly injuring his hand right before the contest, or maybe even losing his trusted bowling ball (or having it stolen) that would cast some doubt, and elicit some genuine intrigue from the viewer about whether Dreamer could pull through, but nothing like this ever gets presented.
Instead the majority of the drama centers around Dreamer’s on-again/off-again relationship with his girlfriend over benign issues that aren’t interesting and with a woman that looks way too beautiful to be wasting her life away working in some dumpy bowling alley, or going out with a bland stiff that doesn’t treat her right. There’s also a thread dealing with Harry and his inability to come to terms with not achieving as much as he could’ve during his younger years when he was a bowler on the circuit, but Harry is just a minor character, so his character history/arch isn’t compelling. It’s Dreamer’s that’s important, but his arch isn’t even apparent.
The film also has a cheesy scene featuring Harry bowling intensely all by himself in the dark after the place has already closed, which begs a really important question: If he’s bowling after everything’s been shut down, then who, or what is resetting the pins while he proceeds to continuously knock them down?
A bad guy, or jerk with the potential of throwing a monkey wrench into the proceedings needed introducing, but nothing materializes and everybody is too chummy with no tantalizing element simmering beneath the surface. To some degree this is the film’s one successful quality as it accurately recreates just how slow, dull, and uneventful small town living can be while putting the poor viewer to sleep in the process.
My Rating: 2 out of 10
Released: April 27, 1979
Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes
Director: Noel Nosseck
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Available: None at this time.