Review: ‘Queenpins’ is a crime against your time
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From the studio that brought you “Hustlers” comes another ripped-from-the-headlines tale about women who live, laugh and love to scam. Based on the true story of Robin Ramirez, a Phoenix woman who pleaded guilty in 2013 to fraud and counterfeiting somewhere north of $40 million in fake coupons she sold online, “Queenpins” is “Extreme Couponing” with a criminal twist. Unfortunately, this crime comedy, written and directed by husband-and-wife team Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly, is an aggressively mediocre and disappointing endeavor.
Ramirez’s story offers the potential for a film to grapple with questions of wealth and gender inequality, as well as the distinctly American values of greed and consumerism, refracted through the lens of the suburban female existence. But “Queenpins” mangles any and all possibilities for trenchant social commentary. Rather, it relies on lowest-common-denominator humor and the overly optimistic assumption that Kristen Bell in an unflattering wig equals “comedy.”
Bell stars as Connie, our annoyingly chipper coupon queen. Connie is essentially power-hungry teacher’s pet Tracy Flick from “Election,” if she grew up to become an Olympic race-walking champion who has struggled with infertility. She channels all of her frustrated energy into clipping coupons, addicted to the dopamine hits of every dollar off. Her best friend and neighbor, JoJo (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), is an aspiring influencer who talks a big game on her couponing YouTube channel but can’t move out of her mom’s house because her credit was ruined by identity theft. Connie, stymied in an unfulfilling marriage to an IRS auditor (Joel McHale), yearns to achieve greatness in some way. She convinces JoJo to drive with her to Mexico tp bribe an employee in the coupon printing factory to send her the discarded Free Item coupons. The duo then can sell them for a profit. It’s not “theft,” Connie claims, it’s just “removing.” The scheme garners the interest of a supermarket loss-prevention officer, Ken (Paul Walter Hauser), as well as a U.S. postal inspector (Vince Vaughn).
“Queenpins” could have worked in the right hands, but the script fails these characters and their story. Underdeveloped characters randomly state the subtext aloud and we never learn the details of Connie and JoJo’s scam, or why their customers might buy from them. The script tells us too much yet not enough, but worst of all, it’s not at all funny, assuming we’ll find these characters and their capers a crack-up, and supplementing that with cringe-worthy scatological humor.
How we, as the audience, are supposed to feel about our antiheroines Connie and JoJo is confounding. Music and camera cues suggest we are to cheer them on as girlboss hustlers, but we’re given nothing to justify their crimes. A sequence where they attempt to launder their “dirty money” by purchasing a bunch of guns and reselling them to a local separatist militia is stomach-churning, yet it’s positioned as a bargaining win for JoJo (accompanied by a baffling celebratory fantasy dance sequence), proving how inept the filmmakers are at framing their female antiheroes. The loyalties of the viewer have no place to land, except with continually humiliated Ken.
“Hustlers” showed us how certain men deserved to be robbed, making it easy to root for these criminal women, though there were still consequences for their actions. The upcoming Amazon docu-series “Lularich” illustrates how bored, struggling housewives are susceptible to scams packaged in the promise of entrepreneurship. “Queenpins” does nothing other than waste your time with bad wigs and poop jokes, and that is the biggest crime of all.
Rated: R, for language throughout
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Playing: Stars Sept. 10 in limited release, including Cinemark Theaters in West L.A., Playa Vista, Downey and Long Beach; available Sept. 30 on Paramount+
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