JoJo (Kirby Howell-Baptiste, left) and Connie (Kristen Bell) spend recklessly after cashing in on fraudulent coupons in “Queenpins.” | STXfilms
Broad comedy tries and fails to present its reckless heroines as feminist, Robin Hood heroes.
Even if you didn’t know “Queenpins” was based on a true story, you’d be pretty sure “Queenpins” was based on a true story because who’s going to concoct a purely fictional comedy crime caper based on … couponing? That’s such a mundane premise it makes the tampered ping-pong ball caper in “Lucky Numbers” sound like the bank heist in “Heat.”
Sure enough, this breezy and occasionally amusing but uneven and far too broad story from writer-directors Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly is inspired by the real-life saga of three middle-aged Arizona women who in 2012 were arrested for selling millions upon millions of dollars in fraudulent coupons online, in a scheme reminiscent of the McDonald’s Monopoly long con as chronicled in the documentary series “McMillions.” Perhaps this story would be better told in a limited non-fiction series as well, as “Queenpins” relies too much on scatological humor, farcical sequences and a not entirely convincing message that these women were feminist, Robin Hood heroes.
The always likable Kristen Bell is squarely in her comfort zone as Connie Kaminski, a former Olympic race walker (spoiler alert: it’s not a lucrative discipline) who spends her days clipping coupons and stockpiling bargain-bought home goods while her neglectful jerk of a husband Rick (Joel McHale), an IRS inspector, alternately ignores her or belittles her obsession with slashing their grocery bills. Connie partners with her next-door neighbor and fellow frugal spender JoJo Johnson (Kirby Howell-Baptiste, who had a recurring role on the Bell-starring “The Good Place”) to create a website where they can sell the coupons they’ve obtained for free at a discount to shoppers across the country. That would all be well and legal — except Connie also has partnered with a married couple (Francisco J. Rodriguez and Ilia Isorelys Paulino) who work at factory in Mexico and have agreed to send Connie boxes and boxes filled with unused coupon sheets. That would NOT be all well and legal.
All of a sudden, a little boutique business has mushroomed into a multi-million-dollar enterprise, which has Connie and JoJo rolling in cash but has also attracted the attention of a hapless local loss prevention manager named Ken (Paul Walter Hauser), who eventually convinces a genuine United States Postal worker named Simon (Vince Vaughn) to take up the case. (Paul Walter Hauser and Vince Vaughn are hilarious together, with Ken following Simon around like a groupie while Simon keeps reminding Ken he’s a real federal officer, with a gun and a badge and everything.)
The pop singer Bebe Rexha delivers a crackling and funny performance as a computer hacker who helps Connie and JoJo create multiple identities and companies designed to launder the money — but Connie and JoJo aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed, and they spend wads of cash on luxury automobiles and even a private plane and a cache of weapons, as if they’re high-profile gangsters living large. There’s an underlying message about Connie finding her personal worth through her couponing escapades, but it’s difficult to find much empathy for her when she and JoJo are behaving like idiots who are almost begging to get caught. That’s not smart shopping.