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'Queenpins' puts a mediocre, disappointing criminal twist on 'Extreme Couponing'

'Queenpins' puts a mediocre, disappointing criminal twist on 'Extreme Couponing'

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Kristen Bell in "Queenpins"

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 uniquely 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, despite a few fumbled attempts. 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 to Mexico with her to bribe an employee in the coupon printing factory to send her the discarded Free Item coupons, so that she and JoJo can sell them for a profit. It’s not “theft,” she 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, unfortunately, the script fails these characters and their story. While there’s scant character development, characters keep randomly stating the subtext aloud. We don’t know 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. The film assumes viewers will find its characters and their capers hilarious and supplements that with cringeworthy scatological humor.

How we, as the audience, are supposed to feel about anti-heroines Connie and JoJo is confounding. Music and camera cues suggest we’re to cheer them on as girlboss hustlers, but we’re given nothing to justify their crimes. The victims are anonymous massive corporations, but it’s suggested that what they’re doing is wrong because these companies won’t be able to pay taxes.

A sequence in which Connie and JoJo 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 anti-heroes. The loyalties of the viewer have no place to land, except with continually humiliated Ken.

“Hustlers” showed us how much certain men deserved to be robbed, making it easy to root for these criminal women, though they still received their consequences. The upcoming Amazon docuseries “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.

In theaters Sept. 10 and available Sept. 30 on Paramount+.

What “Queenpins” • 1½ stars out of four • Run time 1:50 • Rating R for language throughout

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