REVIEW: “QUEENPINS” (2021) STX FILMS

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Coupons. On the by and large one would not equate coupons with high stakes crime and yet here we are with “QUEENPINS”, a story based on the true life of some couponers gone criminal, written and directed by husband and wife team of Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly. Mind you, while the story is real enough, the four main characters of the film are Pullapilly and Gaudet’s very enjoyable creations and they put it all together to make it work quite wonderfully, bringing an almost surreal story to the forefront. It’s a little bit dark comedy, some silliness & hijinks, actual laugh out loud comedy, but not without having it’s really touching moments as well.

Let’s get down now to the brass and tacks of what ‘Queenpins’ is all about as it’s quite the story. Taking place in 2012, the story follows a pair of friends, bored suburban housewife Connie (Kristen Bell), and her ‘aspiring influencer’ neighbor JoJo (Kirby Howell-Baptiste). While Connie, our former three time gold medal Olympian medalist in the oh-so-underappreciated category of race walking (yes. you heard that correctly, race walking), is perky and happy on the outside, within she and her husband Rick (Joel McHale), have drifted apart after she loses a baby and they go into high debt with fertility treatments that have never worked. JoJo, on the other side, is a victim of identity theft which makes starting up a business almost impossible, that and to top it off, she’s had to move in with her mother, Mama Josie (Greta Oglesby). This is the sad side that is periodically dropped in to remind you of why these ladies have decided to band together and put their super-saver couponing skills to multi platinum use. Basically CVS and their mile long receipt can stand down when it comes to how well these two shake their lives up by stealing fake coupons and selling them online, scamming millions of dollars from multinational corporations. 

Kirby Howell-Baptiste as JoJo Johnson and Kristen Bell as Connie Kaminski in QUEENPINS. Credit: Courtesy STX Films

But behind the de-facto Robin Hood-esqeness of how this caper starts off for the ladies, with the desire to pay off their debts, it quickly evolves right into what one would expect when suddenly faced with boatloads of cash – downright greed and money. But not for long, as there is another duo working for the other side lurking in the background. Mr. Coupon Prevention Officer Ken Miller (Paul Walter Hauser), who works for a large chain of grocery stores, takes his job very seriously, most especially so when alerted to thousands of unaccounted-for coupons popping up all over the Southwest. And here is where the story truly takes off giving us the type of storytelling that has the viewer invested in and actually rooting for the women to make it all work and get away with the millions, mostly because Bell and Baptiste give us two strong female leads that we can relate to.

Queenpins takes some twists and turns along the way that you don’t necessarily see coming, but Ken finally meets up with Simon Kilmurry (Vince Vaughn), a U.S. Postal Agent, who realizes the crimes can be investigated as mail fraud. While we’ve seen Hauser in this type of character before, what we haven’t seen is him paired up with Vaughn, and once their chemistry clicks, is when both characters are at their best. Hauser has a way with comedic roles which can make audiences laugh without really having to try, and again, here with Vaughn, who has a natural ability to play off his costars which keeps the pacing of the humour in step. Add in Tempe Tina (Bebe Rexha), who hands down, might be one of the funniest side characters created as a perfectly placed completely out of context ‘Identity Thief/Computer Hacker extraordinaire’ – she really makes her mark in a small, but so perfectly done role. Along, with Stephen Root, Dayo Okeniyi, Francisco J. Rodriguez and Lidia Porto rounding out the supporting cast, you’ve got a true little fun caper film on your hands.

Paul Walter Hauser as Ken Miller and Vince Vaughn as Simon Kilmurry in QUEENPINS. Credit: Courtesy STX Films

While not a perfect comedy, Queenpins has heart and focuses on the friendships new and old, with a high point being it altogether avoids the female cliche trap where women are constantly pitted against each other, and instead sees them stick together no matter where they end up. Without the two female leads providing some great chemistry, this film might not have worked out as well as it did. Bell and Baptiste really put the ‘chem’ in chemistry working together with some iffy moments, to make it real enough to not just believe, but laugh at. Not a simple recipe to pull off.

Original comedies are hard and honestly in a sea of reboots and Marvel films, this is no easy feat to pull off – but at 110 minutes run time – this one deserves the your watch.

B-

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“QUEENPINS” from STX Films – is in theaters on Friday, September 10, 2021 and comes to Paramount+ Friday, September 30, 2021 –

Review Screening ~ Courtesy of STX Films

REVIEW: “BARB AND STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR” (2021) Lionsgate

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Prepare for fun cameos, unnecessary but much loved bouts of singing, and a very different tale of friendship with Director Josh Greenbaum’s wonderfully fun “BARB AND STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR.” It’s a fun throwback to a kind of comedy that you don’t see much of anymore, a delightfully silly ode to friendship and surprisingly – to culottes. With hilarious one-liners sprinkled throughout this film, it’s true core is that while romances and spies can take center stage, Barb and Star really show how true friendship will never go out of style and age, well age can be just a number.

The storyline plot is simple, an evil woman and her sidekick are plotting to flood Vista Del Mar with murderous mosquitos and then comedy ensues. That’s honestly the set-up for this film so I didn’t want to beat around the bush when diving into this review. During the first scene, you’re clearly being asked to forget wherever you think this film might be about because it’s more ridiculous than you think. For this reason alone, you MUST continue watching because everything that follows is sheer crazy, silly, corny fun. We follow middle-aged best friends Barb (Annie Mumolo) and Star (Kristen Wiig) who visit Vista Del Mar, are the best of friends and seem all too content with their oh-so-talkative lives – sitting on the display couch in the department store they work in is a highlight of their day – well that and the ‘Talking Club’ they belong to that gives us some wonderfully obscure hilarious moments between Debbie (Vanessa Bayer) and Delores (Phyllis Smith) and let’s just say ‘hot dog soup’ is a highlight. So the notion of them going on holiday naturally already brings a plethora of comedic possibilities to the table – well that and the fact that said table materializes to musical numbers, a mass murder plot, and a love triangle involving charming undercover spy Edgar Paget (Jamie Dornan), only reiterates the absurd fun this film gives us, but it also showcases just how controlled a film it really is given the silliness of it all. As they encounter our charming undercover spy Edgar and unbeknownst to the women, he actually works for our villain Sharon Gordon Fisherman (also played by Wiig) whose plan is to murder all of Vista Del Mar.

The oodles of fun this movie brings us are just too many to mention, but highlights include: Yoyo (Reyn Doi) kid-villain extraordinaire opening with a lip-sync of “Guilty” by Barbra Streisand that will stick in your head for days, a packing of suitcases for the vacation, ‘Trish’, an absolute creation of a best friend of theirs that has a full life and death story to her, to the lounge pianist singing a song called “I love boobies”. Plus the cameos, oh the cameos, they are all over and one must keep an eye out for every single one of them.

One thing to be completely appreciated about ‘BARB AND STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR‘ was that in an era when a lot of things feel designed by committee or a reboot of a reboot, it feels like a truly wacky idea that could only come from two friends being real screwball idiots together​ in real life and transferred to the big screen just for the sheer pleasure of it all. The comedic chemistry is just fantastic and so much fun to watch.

So with that a note to Barb and Star  — I demand a sequel, so please pitch where they go or what they do next as it was everything we all needed in life and by far the most I’ve personally laughed in a very long time.  Do I want to go party with Barb and Starr and go everywhere with them? Yes, Yes I do and so should you.

Grade: B+

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Review screening: Courtesy of Ginsberg/Libby PR

“BARB AND STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR” IS NOW AVAILABLE ON VOD

REVIEW: “THE BOSS” (2016) Universal Pictures

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Actor, producer and co-writer of this comedy, Melissa McCarthy comes out strong for the first 1/3 of this film featuring her ‘alter-ego’ Michelle Darnell, a character she created with specifics in mind 14 years ago when she was at The Groundlings.

Darnell’s character is a high-powered businesswoman and motivational speaker whose childhood (back n forth between an orphanage and foster care) taught her that the only person she can depend on is herself. She’s self-centered, arrogant and basically completely amoral, seemly part Leona Hemsley/Martha Stewart and an R-rated Little Orphan Annie.
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Michelle generally uses and abuses her personal assistant, Claire (Kristen Bell), and her bodyguard isn’t much more than her personal hype man. When Michelle is arrested for insider trading and sent to jail for five months, everyone abandons her, former lover and long-time business rival Renault (Peter Dinklage) buys her companies and the authorities freeze all of her remaining assets. Looks like someone has to start all over again.
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Long & dull, yet incredibly profane & violent at times, story ensues of Michelle going to and being released from jail. When she doesn’t have anywhere to go, she ends up at ex-assistant Claire’s apartment who now works for a crazy Darnell disciple, Dana Dandridge (played by SNL’s Cecily Strong). Claire’s pre-teen daughter, Rachel (Ella Anderson), convinces her mom that they have to help Michelle and allows her former boss to stay in the apartment until she gets back on her feet, but Michelle’s feet remain reclined on Claire’s couch until her hand is forced and ends up taking Rachel to her Dandelions meeting (think Girl Scouts) where troop leader Sandy (Kristen Schaal) is discussing their cookie sales.

Michelle gets an idea that her “way back” is to form a group called Darnell’s Darlings which will teach girls business skills as they sell brownies that Claire makes from an old family recipe. Michelle gets Rachel to help her recruit various tough girls and other misfits to join up and sell brownies for a percent of the profits and approaches her estranged former mentor Ida Marquette (Kathy Bates) for financing to help expand the business, but as all this is going on, Renault and his assistant Stephan (Timothy Simons) are keeping tabs on the whole deal and just want the payback that he feels her still owes her.
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I could go on.. but the question is almost why?? Trust me, I’m helping you here to avoid wasting your money even bothering to watch this one. “The Boss” is mostly unoriginal, uninspired, unrealistic and unfunny. The clichéd plot lazily recycles the often used story of a main character who has been supposedly ‘hardened’ by a tough life and doesn’t know how to give or receive love. There are a few laughs to be found here and there, again, the first third of the film is good, but the movie’s other problems just kill the mood. Besides that, the movie’s attempts at humor are overly dependent on odd cartoonish violence involving children, cursing around, by and at children, and vulgar sexual references which come off as more crude than funny. McCarthy herself has been much funnier in previous films and hopefully she’ll be funnier again in her future projects. Sadly, her character in this film is one boss who should be fired herself.

Grade: D
@pegsatthemovies

Review Screening: Tuesday, April 5, 2016 ~ Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Nationwide Release: Friday, April 8, 2016