Queenpins Review – IGN
Queenpins is in select Cinemark Theaters nationwide on Sept. 10, then streaming on Paramount+ on Sept. 30.
There’s a couple of givens when it comes to a Kristen Bell comedy: she’s going to be funny, she’ll probably make you like her character, and the project is really going to fly if you don’t hold her back. In the case of Queenpins, she nails the first two, but writer/directors Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly throttle her in what should have been a zanier comedy, and then commit the cardinal sin of sidelining Bell in the third act.
Loosely based on a real 2012 Arizona case where three women were arrested for orchestrating the largest counterfeit coupon scam in U.S. history, Queenpins reframes those details by whittling down the players to two perpetrators: Connie (Bell) and her best friend JoJo (Kirby Howell-Baptiste). A former Olympic race walker, Connie is now stuck in the Phoenix suburbs, burying her miscarriage depression with obsessive couponing while barely existing next to her dour IRS auditor husband (Joel McHale). JoJo understands Connie’s plight, as she too is unhappy, living with her mom because of recent identity theft and trying to leverage YouTube to sell makeup and build a “brand” out of her current situation.
Both penny pinchers, they appreciate the ephemeral endorphin “win” of extreme couponing, but then they ratchet up the stakes. Connie figures out that she can get free vouchers from companies just for complaining. Soon, the pair has a side hustle selling the coupons for a profit via a janky website, eventually figuring out a way to access extra printed vouchers from a Mexican coupon clearing house, and it becomes a mega million-dollar operation.
Previously, Bell and Howell-Baptiste worked together on The Good Place, the Veronica Mars reboot, and at L.A. improv events, and that comes across strongly in their ease with one another, which is what initially pulls us into their orbit. They capably convince us that Connie and JoJo are competent underdogs, who kinda deserve to siphon away millions from the dumb conglomerates that nickel and dime average shoppers. Even JoJo’s former identity theft scammer (well-played by Bebe Rexha) takes pity on them.
A local grocery Loss Prevention Officer, Ken Miller (Paul Walter Hauser), serves as the perfect foil for the two ladies. A stickler for rules and coupon expiration dates, he’s positioned to be the balanced adversary to bring the whole thing down. But as the case escalates, Vince Vaughn is introduced as U.S. Postal Inspector Al Anderson, and that’s when the film really goes off the rails.
Suddenly, Ken becomes Al’s albatross as they investigate the evidence and circle up on the Phoenix-based operation. The women then disappear for large swaths of time while an annoyed Al — a Vaughn character staple — endures chatty plane rides and rental car stake-outs with Ken. All of their scenes drag on and on, and the odd couple comedy overstays its welcome.
All of that contributes to the third act really getting away from Gaudet and Pullapilly, which is extremely disappointing after a very tight and enjoyable first act. The engaging cat-and-mouse dynamic between the central duo and the Feds disappears, and the comedy isn’t allowed to bloom into the kind of excess Bell and Howell-Baptiste would have knocked out of the park. What could have been a sly black comedy about illegally gained empowerment and sticking it to the corporate man just wraps up like a bland sitcom. It’s an amusing ride, but it could have been a lot more.