Executive produced, conceived, directed by Larry Locke. An intermittently amusing look at the world of professional bowling is offered in Larry Locke’s docu “Pin Gods,” which interweaves the stories of three ambitious, if slightly bizarre, men. Technically, pic is raw, but the novelty of its concerns, which are presented with a healthy dose of bittersweet humor, may warrant limited theatrical distribution. Ultimately, though, pic is best suited for the festival circuit.
Debuting filmmaker Locke and his producer, Jan Grznar, both graduates of Columbia U.’s film school, can’t decide whether their documentary should follow the satirical path of “Roger and Me” or take the investigative approach of “Hoop Dreams.” Result is an offbeat film that tries too hard to be hip and quirky but is only mildly witty and sharp in its view of the bowling milieu and the American Dream of fame and success.
The youngest rookie here is Tony Rosamilia, 21, from Lodgewood, N.J., who all his life has dreamed of becoming a bowler despite the fact that his friends insist it’s a “sissy” sport.
Anton “Sonny” Pavelchak, from New York’s Valley Cottage, is slightly older, 26, and just as determined to make it big. The most talented and cocky of the three is Bob Vespi, 25, from Ft. Lauderdale. Off-center trio is contrasted with the older pro, Walter Ray Williams, the reigning bowler of the year.
Unlike “Hoop Dreams,” in which the story unfolds in front of viewers’ eyes, there’s no real suspense here: Docu plants enough facts to suggest its protagonists won’t succeed. A further problem is that the bowlers’ families and friends are far more colorful and interesting than they are. This is especially true of Anton’s father, whose running commentary about his son’s cop-out and eventual failure is the funniest thing in the film.
“Pin Gods” succeeds at conveying an authentic feel for the tough life on the road, as 200 bowlers engage in a coast-to-coast winter marathon through Middle America’s sleazy motels, cheap diners and various bowling lanes.
But it doesn’t help matters that bowling is inherently undramatic, or, as one commentator says, “It’s not you against them, it’s you against the pins.”