Queenpins is a “comedy” starring Kristen Bell, Vince Vaughn, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, and Paul Walter Hauser, and with a cast like that and a true-crime inspiration, one might imagine the film would have made a bigger dent when it (briefly) stopped by theaters in September and then premiered last week on Paramount+. We ran the trailer for it back in July, but I otherwise completely forgot that it existed until I saw a promo for it while dialing up Paramount+ to watch Evil.
The reason Paramount+ likely didn’t waste a lot of money promoting it — even as a means to lure new subscribers — is because it is decidedly middling, the kind of movie that’s not nearly as good as its premise. It’s about two women, Connie (Bell) and JoJo (Howell-Baptiste), who are unhappy with their tedious suburban existences. Cashing in coupons is the only time they feel alive. (Editor’s note: Can you believe Extreme Couponing ran for four seasons?) Connie, for instance, has an entire room devoted to non-perishable grocery items — boxes of cereal, detergent, etc. — she loads up not because she needs them but because she has coupons for the items. “You gotta spend money to save money,” as my old marketing professor used to say.
One day, Connie stumbles upon a coupon hack. If you write an angry letter to the manufacturer, they will send you a coupon for a free item. Connie writes letters to the manufacturers of dozens of products, somehow reasoning that saving $3.75 is worth the effort of writing a letter and mailing it. Connie is a bored housewife with no children and a lot of free time on her hands (she’s also a former Olympian in the speed-walking competition, a sport that actually exists in the Olympics).
The coupon high, however, is not enough for Connie, so she takes it to the next level. She and best friend JoJo drive to Mexico and convince a couple who work in the plant, where all of these coupons are printed, to steal boxes of them in exchange for a cut of the profit they generate using a website to sell the coupons for pennies on the dollar. Before they know it, they’ve made millions of dollars, more money than they know how to spend.
Paul Walter Hauser plays Ken Miller, a Paul Walter Hauser character in charge of detecting fraud for a regional grocery chain. He begins to notice an unusual number of coupons being used in his stores and endeavors to root out the criminals. The investigation leads him to Simon Kilmurry (Vaughn), a U.S. postal inspector. The two bumble around in an attempt to track down these nefarious coupon scammers who are stealing from poor, innocent corporate America.
The premise is reminiscent of the McMillions documentary series, only these fictional characters aren’t nearly as interesting as the real-life culprits behind the McDonald’s Monopoly promotion scam. Bell basically plays Tracy Flick if Tracy Flick grew up to become a bored housewife, while Paul Walter Hauser’s character tries to mine comedy from shitting his pants during a stakeout. The movie meanders for an hour and 50 minutes, and then it ends. It doesn’t even bother to establish heroes or villains; we don’t sympathize with either Connie/JoJo or Ken/Simon (the only real villain is Connie’s husband, an IRS auditor played by Joel McHale in full-on asshole mode). It’s too hard to get worked up over someone stealing coupons from Procter & Gamble, but the investigators are too hapless to root either for or against. Charitably, Queenpins might be useful for killing time, but maybe the best thing that can be said for it is that it’s better than another comedy inspired by a wild crime perpetuated by idiots, the 2016 film Masterminds starring Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, and Jason Sudeikis. It is not a high bar.
The movie, however, is more “inspired by” than “based on” a true story, although there are some things in common between the characters played by Bell and Howell-Baptiste and the three women who made $40 million in their own coupon scheme. The real-life scheme involved counterfeiting coupons instead of stealing them, although they both sold their coupons online. Robin Ramirez, Amiko Fountain, and Marilyn Johnson — also from Phoenix — were arrested in 2012. Like their movie counterparts, they also had more money than they could spend, a la renting an airplane hangar and filling it with sports cars. Similarly, only the ringleader — Ramirez in real life and Connie in the movie — served prison time, though both received relatively short sentences considering the amount of money involved (2 years and 11 months, respectively). Clearly, prosecutors in both cases couldn’t muster up a lot of sympathy for corporate America.
Queenpins is streaming on Paramount+.
Header Image Source: Paramount+