Review: 'Queenpins' pulls back a win with stellar performances despite rocky start

Comedy might star Kristen Bell in the lead role, but it's the supporting characters that save the film from feeling forgettable

Kristen Bell, left, and Kirby Howell-Baptiste star in new comedy 'Queenpins'. STX Films

About 30 minutes into Queenpins, it feels like the comedy is about to lose its steam.

After establishing that Kristen Bell’s Connie and Kirby Howell-Baptiste’s Jojo are two best friends who are addicted to using coupons to save as much money on their shopping as possible, there’s not enough intrigue to make their story seem worthwhile.

But there’s more to Queenpins than merely watching the duo cut out vouchers from catalogues and hit the stores.

In a tale based on a true story, both Connie and Jojo are down on their luck and looking to get rich. When they discover that one factory distributes all of the free coupons to customers across America, they devise a scheme that goes on to net them tens of millions of dollars.

Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t go unnoticed by authorities. Paul Walter Hauser’s Ken Miller, an overzealous loss prevention officer from a supermarket chain, joins forces with Vince Vaughn’s Simon Kilmurry, a US postal inspector, to hunt down Connie and Jojo.

The arrival of Hauser and Vaughn’s characters is when Queenpins finally starts to find its rhythm. Before then, the writing and directing team of Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly approach the audacious real events in a rather mundane manner.

They avoid going into any detail that might make the film feel original. Instead, they focus too much on trying to ensure we root for the leading characters, including one specific plot point that derails the film's light-hearted tone.

Paul Walter Hauser as Ken Miller and Vince Vaughn as Simon Kilmurry in 'Queenpins'. STX Films

Howell-Baptiste carries large sections of Queenpins. That might come as a surprise, considering this marks the actress's first lead role in a feature film – but she’s a natural.

Funny and charming, as well as mysterious and vulnerable, Howell-Baptiste makes sure that Queenpins never completely flounders. Bell, on the other hand, fades into the background of each scene, even though she’s playing the lead role. She's not helped by a narration that tells us every thought that enters her head.

Luckily, the same can’t be said for Hauser or Vaughn. The addition of their hilarious rapport elevates Queenpins, as Vaughn plays the straight man to Hauser’s eccentric character, who has become overly obsessed with catching the two women.

Special praise should also be saved for Bebe Rexha, whose brief role as a young internet whiz is equally dynamic.

It’s not only the supporting performances that allow Queenpins to hit its stride, as Gaudet and Pullapilly do a fine job of splitting the narrative.

Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Jojo Johnson and Dayo Okeniyi as Earl in 'Queenpins'. STX Films

The manner in which we go from watching Bell and Howell-Baptiste trying to clean their stolen money to Vaughn and Hauser getting closer to finding them injects a tension that makes the film increasingly riveting.

There are still various subplots and attempts to add thematic depth that don’t land. But, ultimately, Queenpins gets over its rocky start to become an enjoyable comedy that delivers more than enough laughs.

Queenpins is in cinemas across the UAE from Thursday

Updated: September 9th 2021, 3:14 AM