Queenpins (Paramount +) – movie review

Relative newcomer to the Australian streaming scene, Paramount +, has bold plans. The Ten-affiliated streamer wants to embrace live sport and movies along with its TV offerings. And one of the first big-name movies to be added to the platform is Queenpins. And it’s a pretty good way to kick things off.

Writer-directors Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly don’t push any boundaries, but they’ve crafted an enjoyable – if uneven – crime caper with Queenpins. It’s one of those films I felt like I’d seen before, but that doesn’t mean I was bored. And some winning performances from a great cast add to its appeal.

Connie (Kristen Bell) is mad about couponing (that’s using coupons to save on your shopping). Her best friend JoJo (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) is more restrained but can see the value in them. For Connie though, it’s an obsession. She has a room in her house devoted just to her coupon purchases. The financial cost is adding up though – something multiplied by a huge debt for failed IVF treatments. The situation has reached the point where Connie’s husband Rick (Joel McHale) – an IRS auditor – prefers to spend several weeks each month on the road. Nothing much seems to be going right for Connie. But a free box of cereal leads Connie and JoJo piece together a number of threads. They soon discover that virtually all coupons distributed in the US are manufactured at one plant in Mexico. A road trip and a little incentive for Alejandro (Francisco J. Rodriguez), a worker at the plant, sets the pair up to receive thousands of (stolen) coupons.

They set up an online business selling the coupons (which they’ve effectively secured for nothing) to American consumers for half their face value. Soon, they’re raking in the cash. There’s one big problem though – since the coupons are stolen, all the money is “dirty”. They turn to tech-savvy Tempe Tina (Bebe Rexha) – who had previously stolen JoJo’s identity – to “clean” their money.

Meanwhile, tight-wad loss prevention officer Ken (Paul Walter Hauser) notices unusually high levels of coupon redemption. At first he thinks they’re fake, but of course, they’re made by the real manufacturer, so can’t be. He knows something’s up though, so approaches the FBI. While they pretend to take his claims seriously, no one at the Bureau much cares about coupon fraud. Eventually though, Ken’s persistence forces the FBI into some kind of action. The Feds realise the coupons are sent in the mail, making it potentially a case of mail fraud. So it’s kicked to the US Postal Service. They dispatch determined Postal Inspector Kilmurry (Vince Vaughn) to Nevada to deal with things.

Queenpins is based on a real-life case but Gaudet and Pullapilly have obviously ramped up the comedic aspects to good effect. But they get a bit bogged down trying to weave a theme on the ills of late-stage capitalism into the narrative. This often comes off as clunky, not to mention more than a little problematic (such as a digression where the women sell guns to an ultra-right-wing militia). The ending is also a bit too neat, but it it wraps things up in satisfying fashion.

Kristen Bell (The Good Place) and Kirby Howell-Baptiste (Cruella) nail the central relationship, giving Connie and JoJo a charming familiarity. Similarly, Paul Walter Hauser (Da 5 Bloods) and Vince Vaughn (Freaky) keep things bubbling along with the bromance between Ken and Kilmurry. Funnyman Joel McHale plays against type as the dour Rick, while popstar Bebe Rexha shines in the small role of Tempe Tina.

Queenpins is at its best when the directors keep it light. The fizzy script doesn’t really provide enough structure to delve into deeper topics, so its efforts to do that fall rather flat. But I was with it just about all the way, so as an entertaining crime romp, it just about works.

David Edwards

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