Review: Best friends create illegal coupon scheme in decently comical 'Queenpins'
Courtesy of STX Films
Talk about finding a cheap bargain.
In “Queenpins,” the amusing new comedy from Aaron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly, a pair of thirty-something extreme couponers devise a get-rich quick scheme by producing counterfeits and selling them at discounted prices. Based on a true story, though the names of the guilty parties were changed for legal reasons, “Queenpins” sees an incredibly chipper Kristen Bell and an equally game Kirby Howell-Baptiste finding the charm in a thin screenplay with fun supporting turns by Paul Walter Hauser and Vince Vaughn playing the two investigators trying to capture them.
It’s easy to forget during the film’s opening minutes, with its sitcom style intro: “You’re probably wondering how we got here,” that what these characters are doing is illegal, but for Bell’s Connie, an olympic athlete in the power walking event, and her cozy next door neighbor/best friend JoJo (Howell-Baptiste), it’s the American dream of making ends meet. Connie lives a semi-decent middle class lifestyle thanks to her husband, Rick (Joel McHale) who works for the IRS; JoJo, on the other hand, lives with her senial mother after identity fraud left her credit in shambles.
To help with Connie’s anxiety and semi-depression, after she and Rick tried and failed to have a child through numerous fertility clinics, she clips coupons and stocks up on endless household items whether they’re needed or not. It’s that type of pursuit of excellence which inspires Connie to write a formal complaint to Wheaties after chowing down on stale cereal. Mind you, she didn’t need to do this, but the gratification was too juicy to resist. The promotional coupon she receives in the mall springboards the entire basis of her ponzi scheme: printing illegal duplicates through a variety of plants based in Mexico and employing workers to help.
Though the real life case involved forging coupons as opposed to printing them (among many liberties taken with the material), “Queenpins” locks down a clear focus and grabs a few laughs along the way. Namely, Paul Walter Hauser, who in another life would have been the perfect “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” as Ken, the goofy loss prevention specialist for a local grocery chain and his unlikely partner, Simon (Vaughn), a postal inspector who gets mistaken for an FBI detective more often than he’d like to admit. Together, mostly Simon, they embark on a statewide investigation into the whereabouts of Connie and JoJo who end up amassing some $40 million in illicit funds. In one of the funnier bits of the film, when Connie and Jojo are trying to launder the money, they purchase an arsenal of semi-automatic rifles and afterwards declare: “That was easy.”
Such smart comic bits are few and far between, but that’s one of several that land the mark. Vaughn and Hauser make a good foil to Bell and Howell-Baptise and neither overstay their welcome. What doesn’t work are the aimless subplots where the girls conjure methods of spending their haul (“Should we buy a lamborghini?”) And the awkwardly written confrontations between Rick and Connie.
“Queenpins” fails to facilitate the classist/consumerism warfare conversation suggested by its premise nor does it challenge Connie and JoJo’s experience in a convincing manner. In fact, there’s a sophisticated comedy lurking in Gaudet and Pullapilly’s screenplay about product placement and obsession, but as a breezy afternoon matinee, “Queenpins” is harmless (and humorous) enough to be worth clipping.
But make sure you don’t pay full price.
QUEENPINS opens in Cinemark theaters Friday, September 10th and debuts on Paramount+ September 24th