Kingpin [1996]

Director: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly
Stars: Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid, Bill Murray, Vanessa Angel, Chris Elliott
Genre: Comedy, Sport
Rating: R (Restricted)
Runtime: 113 minutes

An extremely violent, sometimes downright gruesome, drama series about a mob family, Kingpin invites inevitable comparisons with The Sopranos--the pilot episode is even directed by Sopranos alumnus Allen Coulter--but the basic premise is more a South-of-the-border Godfather, with Miguel Cadena (Yancey Arias) as the conflicted Michael Corleone-type character who finds himself inexorably but somewhat reluctantly taking charge of his family's Mexican drug cartel. Written and produced by David Mills, a graduate of NYPD Blue and Homicide: Life on the Street, the show has all the right credentials for a successful TV drama, combining a colorful ensemble cast and evocative locations on either side of the Rio Grande, but somehow it failed to find a big enough audience to get beyond one season (a similar fate befell the equally praiseworthy Boomtown). Unlike Tony Soprano, Miguel's (American) wife Marlene (Sheryl Lee, still best known as Laura Palmer from Twin Peaks) supports her husband's position with Machiavellian schemes of her own, though both parents strive to shelter their 8-year-old son from involvement in the messier side of the family business. After a bloody coup in the pilot episode, Miguel and his ruthless brother Chato (Bobby Cannavale) cement their hold over the business, while struggling with the twin threats of family infighting and law enforcement pressure. As in Steven Soderbergh's Traffic, here the DEA agents--principally go-getting Delia Flores (Angela Alvarado Rosa)--are significant characters in their own right. Also north of the border is cowardly plastic surgeon Dr. Heywood Klein (Brian Benben), whose often unwilling involvement with small-time crooks (especially his self-appointed bodyguard Junie, played with deadpan wit by Shay Roundtree) provides much-needed comic relief amid the scenes of casual slaughter. With its vivid depiction of a sleazy, utterly amoral world, Kingpin makes for compelling viewing, even if it never quite attains the effortlessly sublime levels of its northern predecessor. --Mark Walker

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