Everyone loves making a saving. But for two best friends, penny-pinching turns into a multi-million dollar counterfeit coupon scheme. Written and directed by husband and wife team Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly, Queenpins takes a cool cast and ambitiously attempts not one, but two buddy comedies – with disappointing results
Loosely based on a true story, Connie Kaminski (Kristen Bell), and JoJo Johnson (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) are suburban women with differing frustrations. With her finances now diminished after several unsuccessful rounds of IVF, Connie, a former Olympic speed walker, deals with her heartbreak by obsessively collecting coupons in order to regain a sense of control and achievement. Trapped in a loveless marriage with husband Rick (Joel McHale), Connie’s wins now come in the form of nabbing 400 dollars worth of detergent for an impressive 57 bucks. JoJo, on the other hand, lives with her mother and is a struggling salesperson and Youtuber. After becoming a victim of identity theft and being left with bad credit, she dreams of earning back her financial independence.
When a stale box of Wheaties causes Connie to fire off an irate email to the manufacturer, she discovers that by writing complaint letters to major corporations she’ll automatically receive a free coupon. Armed with this knowledge, she masterminds a plan to steal bundles of coupons from the main printing plant in Mexico and sell them to thrifty shoppers via a website. JoJo cheerfully goes along with the plan and soon the pair have sought the expertise of a cyber-thief (played by singer Bebe Rexha) and enlisted struggling plant workers to siphon off discarded coupons; before illegally transporting them to Phoenix, Arizona where they can be mailed out from the comfort of the ladies’ homes at a 50% markup price.
Kristen Bell is a familiar fixture in film and TV with an iconic role as Veronica Mars, as well as providing the voice of Princess Anna in Disney mega-hit Frozen. Perhaps currently best recognised for her role as Eleanor Shellstrop in critically acclaimed TV comedy The Good Place, she’s well-cast as a relentless go-getter. Queenpins forms something of a reunion as Kirby Howell-Baptiste starred in both Veronica Mars and The Good Place (watch out for a brief cameo from another cast member of the latter too). With a resume including Killing Eve and Cruella, Howell-Baptiste shines as JoJo. Embuing her with a happy-go-lucky attitude and relatable determination, JoJo is the character easiest to root for. Rounding out the cast is Paul Walter Hauser as hapless Loss Prevention Inspector Ken Miller and Vince Vaughan as U.S. Postal Inspector Simon Kilmurry; who form the duo pursuing our criminals.
Despite comprising of well-tested comedic talent, Queenpins only ever approaches mild amusement. Laughs are meant to be derived from the ignorance of our protagonists; misunderstanding the money laundering process and getting into ridiculous situations as a result. However, much of what Queenpins seems to want us to feel doesn’t quite make sense. As the mastermind of the scheme, Connie is presented as shrewd enough to meticulously calculate and make notable coupon savings (no easy feat for those with barely the resolve to scan a Clubcard regularly), so it seems odd for many of the blunders the women make to be the result of a lack of research. In addition, there are moments of farce from Howell-Baptiste, Walter-Hauser and Vaughn that hint at their innate humour, but a lacklustre script fails to get them towards anything genuinely funny.
Queenpins also suffers from a lack of clear vision. It doesn’t know if it wants to be a crime caper, morality tale or female empowerment movie. There are sporadic injections of brash, poppy beats from female vocalists that work well and suggest the latter, but inconsistencies in the storytelling don’t quite bear this out. Gaudet and Pullapilly researched the crime, created new characters and built their story from a blend of real events and fiction. This means they weren’t constrained by a debt to the truth, so it’s unfortunate that this film ends up feeling very middle of the road and forgettable.
Everyone loves a bargain, but Queenpins is a film that short-changes its cast and the viewer alike.
QUEENPINS will open in theatres from STXfilms on September 10, 2021 and coming soon to Paramount+