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Movie Review: 'Queenpin' Starring Kristen Bell

Queenpins squanders solid lead performance from Kristen Bell in mean spirited gags.

By Sean PatrickPublished 3 years ago 5 min read

Queenpins stars Kristen Bell and Kirby Howell-Baptiste as bored suburbanite besties who decide to turn their love of coupons into a side business. Of course, if that was all that they did, there would not be a movie made about them. Thus, as Connie and JoJo, Bell and Howell-Baptiste, launch a minor criminal enterprise in order to sell illegal coupons on the internet until they are tracked down by a loss prevention specialist and a Postal Inspector.

Connie (Bell) is a former Olympic Speedwalker. She never earned a medal in the event but she competed and that’s still a notable accomplishment. Connie is married to Rick (Joel McHale), an IRS Agent who has taken to traveling more and more for work after the loss of another attempt at creating a baby via expensive IVF treatments. The two argue about money and especially about Connie’s love of couponing which causes her to shop for more than they could ever need of various products.

JoJo (Howell-Baptiste) is Connie’s neighbor, a wannabe entrepreneur who sells makeup door to door and has a YouTube channel dedicated to her love of couponing. JoJo lives with her mother, Mama Josie (Greta Oglesby), a cantankerous woman who doesn’t understand her daughter and appears to sabotage her regularly. Poor JoJo had her identity stolen not long ago, by a hacker named Tempe Tina (Pop Star Bebe Rexha), and her credit rating has not recovered.

When Connie finds that one of her coupon deals, a box of Wheaties, is stale she decides to write to the makers of Wheaties and share her displeasure with their product. This causes the company to send Connie a coupon for a free box of Wheaties. A store employee then tells Connie that if you complain to the company, they will send anyone a free coupon to shut them up. This leads to Connie sending out a mass of complaints and getting numerous free coupons.

When Connie finds out that the company that prints the coupons is just across the Mexican border, she invites JoJo into a scheme. The two will travel to Mexico and tempt an employee to send them boxes of loose coupons for free stuff. Connie and JoJo will then turn around and sell the free coupons on the internet and make a profit. Their scheme goes too well and soon they have way too much money that they cannot possibly explain how they have it.

Meanwhile, the massive number of free coupons popping up around the country captures the attention of a loss prevention specialist named Ken (Paul Walter Hauser) who makes it his mission to find out where the coupons are coming from. After failing to get the interest of the FBI, Ken is referred to the US Postal Service. Since the scheme appears to involve mail fraud, a Postal Service inspector named Simon (Vince Vaughh) is assigned to investigate and take Ken under his wing.

Queenpins was written and directed by the duo of Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly and is loosely based on the real life stories of three women from Arizona who carried out a similar fraud. The similarities are loose as Queenpins changes a few details with the intent of making the duo of Connie and JoJo more sympathetic. The casting of Bell and Howell-Baptiste was a good choice as both actresses are innately charming, charismatic and very funny.

If only the rest of Queenpins was as good as the two leads. Sadly, Queenpins strikes a number of wrong notes, especially in the performances of Hauser and Vaughn. Hauser is repeatedly made the butt of jokes, he’s repeatedly disrespected and badly treated and while the character is not intended to be wholly sympathetic, the jokes at his expense tend to be very mean spirited and Vaughn, though charming in a typically Vince Vaughn fashion, comes off too often as a bully going for a joke when a joke isn’t called for.

Hauser and Vaughn are together for most of the movie and they don’t have much chemistry. Hauser is the butt of jokes and Vaughn’s performance carries an air of above it all arrogance that fails when jokes are made seemingly at the expense of his job as a postal inspector. The dynamic of how Vaughn’s postal inspector is picked on for not being a member of the more serious kinds of law enforcement, should bond he and the equally picked on Hauser character but instead he chooses to dunk on Hauser repeatedly before a forced sort of mutual respect is shoehorned into the end of Queenpins.

The Mexican characters are given zero characterization. The married couple, Alejandro and Rosa, played by Francisco J Rodriguez and Ilia Paulino, are given one funny scene, where they assume they are being kidnapped when Connie and JoJo follow them in their car, but are soon just a one note gag. That one note is that Ilia is over six feet tall and Alejandro is much smaller and meek. The two are greedy and willing to help in the scheme with little prompting as they are desperately underpaid for their work, another stab at dark humor that fails, corporate greed is hardly called out even in this very obvious plot point.

Criticizing corporations likely would have prevented the makers of Queenpins from making up the film’s $40 million dollar budget via an ungodly level of product placement. I get that having these real products adds to the naturalism and real world premise of Queenpins but it also means that the movie has to cut corners when it comes to how the scam involved the greed and corruption of major brands that exploit labor south of the border.

There is a misguided quality to much of Queenpins. The look of the movie feels cheap, the lighting, costumes and even the makeup feel perfunctory. Queenpins is yet another Hollywood feature wherein someone of middle class or lower middle class income is defined by having frizzy hair. The lengths that the filmmakers go to try and make Kristen Bell less than movie star attractive are distracting, they simply gave her a terrible, unmanageable hairstyle and I can’t be the only one who desperately wished for her to use her ill-gotten financial gains on a trip to the hairdresser.

That’s not something I should be thinking about during what is supposed to be a laugh riot comic send up of a true crime story. Though, admittedly, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t laugh during Queenpins. There are a number of good jokes in Queenpins. Here I will praise the use of pop star Bebe Rexha who, though she’s not a great actress, she’s a wonderful comic foil for Bell and Howell-Baptise. The subplot of going to the person who stole JoJo’s identity for help in their online scheme is inspired and Bell and Howell-Baptiste appear to be having great fun trying to make the pop star break character.

Queenpins is in theaters now, as of September 10th, 2021.


About the Creator

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast I am a voting member of the Critics Choice Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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