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: “THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS” (2018) STX ENTERTAINMENT

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I truly wasn’t sure what to expect from “The Happytime Murders”Brian Henson’s (son of Muppet creator Jim Henson)foray into the adult puppet genre’ aka #MuppetsGoneBad, but it wasn’t a VERY adult comedy about puppets to be sure. But fear not, this isn’t Ernie and The Cookie Monster doing puppet porn, however it could be described as a bit of #Muppetsoncrack..or should I say sugar, as snorting sugar is their ‘crack’.

In The Happytime Murders, a private detective named Phil Philips (Bill Barretta) picks up a new case, which leads him directly into a series of brutal puppet homicides. Someone is targeting the cast of The Happytime Gang, a once popular sitcom whose cast has hit hard times, and Phil has to team up with his old partner Det. Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) to solve the case. In addition to McCarthy, whose slapstick performance comes off as rather effortless, you’ll also encounter Maya Rudolph, portraying Bubbles, the noir P.I. secretary to Philips, Elizabeth Banks as ex-human girlfriend Jenny, and (a sadly under-utilized) Joel McHale as smarmy FBI Agent Campbell.

The murder mystery in and of itself, isn’t anything you haven’t seen before – neither is the twist at the end. These cute puppets though are revealed as porn addicts, drug addicts, plastic surgery addicts, sex addicts and worse, in other words, just like us. But that’s really what the joke of the whole film is – as they make due on jokes of puppet racism, puppet stuffing, what happens to puppets in jail, and to be honest, some of it was quite funny. It’s a somewhat weird, crazy and ingenious idea to be honest. It’s like Henson knew he had this one opportunity to tell an adult-oriented puppet story that entertains comedically, has an actual storyline and isn’t a cartoon type film. But when I say it’s for adults, it’s because it truly not a family-friendly movie in the slightest. It’s over-the-top heavy on sexual humor, along with violence, although how ‘violent’ is it really to shoot a puppet and stuffing blows up – or have a dog-attack on a puppet when 5 yr. old’s tear their dolls apart like this everyday. Well, it could be used in the context of point, because subtlety won’t make the point that puppets can be used to tell stories, but also have something meaningful to say in that story. But it’s mostly effective due to Bill Baretta and Melissa McCarthy being talented comedians who know how to make their sillier jokes feel like extensions of their characters and the relatively absurd reality in which they live.

The humor in The Happytime Murders can be raunchy and sophomoric, and its story will no doubt be too simplistic for some, but those who don’t suspend disbelief and go with the flow of imagination here, are missing out on what was intended to be an hour and a half of some good laughs.

I expect The Happytime Murders to be a hit among McCarthy and adult Muppets fans alike, as well as those seeking a don’t-take-it-so-seriously fun comedy in the closing days of summer.

Media Review Screening: Wednesday, August 22, 2018 ~ Courtesy of STX Entertainment