Coupon Comedy Film Queenpins is all but Funny

Rating: 2 out of 5.

With Paramount + starting to kick into second gear with more content being released, it seemed fitting to check out the streaming providers latest original title, Queenpins (2021).

As its name suggests, in a rather unsubtle manner, the film is a take on the kingpin story that has been tried and dried since cinemas inception. To elaborate, there’s an idea that hits the protagonist, which ultimately leads to an illegal business involving money laundering, and then a culmination of a series of events that either see the protagonist get away with their dirty work or end up caught.

That ‘idea’ is what the film leans on for support and uses to try and differentiate itself from more serious films in the sub-genre. Connie Kaminski (played by the ever delightful Kristen Bell) finds a loophole in the supermarket coupon system where, after having complained to companies via email over the quality of their products, she is sent coupons to obtain those items for free. It isn’t until her YouTube-wannabe-star friend JoJo (played by Bell’s The Good Place co-star, Kirby Howell-Baptiste) suggests the potential to resell these coupons for half price, that Connie sees the potential to make some dough.

This is what directors Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly use to try and incorporate the more comical side of the film whilst also retaining a level of seriousness of the real life events that inspired the film. For the most part, the concept of the film is actually quite comical in and of itself. Evidently, Bell’s presence brings a level of warmth to this character that works alongside the premise of the film to make her not fall into the standard anti-hero of kingpin criminal films.

Connie’s backstory also helps to bring a level of sympathy to her character as she struggles financially due to undergoing expensive IVF treatments with her husband Rick (an incredibly underutilized Joel McHale). Subsequently, while her actions of counterfeiting coupons never really becomes something that sends fear down her spine should she be caught (particularly due to the naivety shown during the laundering process), it does give a more playful version of events.  

Paul Walter Hauser and Vince Vaughn in Queenpins

Joining Bell and Howell-Baptiste in this very buddy-up style comedy is Paul Walter Hauser and the quintessential serious-funny-guy type in Vince Vaughn. Hauser plays Ken Miller, a supermarket Loss Prevention Officer, while Vaughn plays Simon Kilmurry, a U.S Postal Inspector. Ken and Simon are the other side of the coupon counterfeiting coin as the FBI effectively demotes the issue as unimportant, and it is up to the two of them to crack the coupon case.

When spending time with Ken and Simon, the film leans into that buddy-cop type telling where the humour lies. Most of this humour comes from the very fact that the duo aren’t FBI agents, they’re serious about a coupon crime, and they have small gags that are aimed at drawing a laugh (Ken defecates in the car while out scouting Connie and JoJo with Simon). Most of these gags will either bring about a laugh or two, or simply just fall flat seeing as they just spontaneously pop up seemingly for the sake of a cheap laugh (a sign that the humour just isn’t great).

It’s easy to see that pairing the female leads together and the male leads together gives the film a lot more to work with as the actors play off of each other quite nicely when we do spend time with them. The problem with this duality is that we end up with two perspectives that seem to play out as two separate films. In essence, both the Bell/Howell-Baptiste and Vaughn/Hauser dynamic would really have worked better had they been two separate versions of this story or had we spent more time with Bell and Howell-Baptiste.

At the end though, the film banks on those back and forths between the female and male pairings. The actual coupon issue doesn’t carry enough weight behind it and just simply never feels like it raises the stakes due to how measured and composed Bell and JoJo are, even when they’ve been caught (an issue on the part of characterisation that is lacking). When all is said and done, Queenpins is a light-hearted but hardly humorous two hours.

Queenpins is now streaming on Paramount +

Infinite: Reincarnation has Never Looked so Boring

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

With film studio Paramount having launched its streaming service Paramount +, it seemed fitting to watch its first drawcard feature Infinite (2021) starring the ever bankable Mark Wahlberg. This comes some months after Amazon Prime’s recent sci-fi thriller The Tomorrow War (2021), starring an equably bankable Chris Pratt in the lead role. While The Tomorrow War had a relatively tolerable premise, Infinite is an insufferable mess that proves studios are willing to throw their money at just about anything as long as Wahlberg is in it.

To say that Mark Wahlberg is the problem would be an oversight. His performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997) is as iconic today as it was over 20 years ago, and he seems to have found a resonance with Michael Bay — having shone in Pain and Gain (2013) and the last of Bay’s two Transformers films. However, Infinite reduces Wahlberg’s often fast-talking and physical performance to a dreary and tedious display that can only be summed up by Wahlberg’s own confused facial expressions as events of the film unfold.

Antoine Fuqua is known for his action packed films like Training Day (2001), The Equalizer (2014) and frequent collaborations with the likes of Denzel Washington (who won an Oscar for Training Day), Jake Gyllenhaal, and now Mark Wahlberg (both of whom he has worked with twice). However, Infinite represents a departure from a simple action premise to something more akin to Doug Liman’s dreadful action sci-fi, Jumper (2008). It is adapted from D. Erik Maikranz’s 2009 novel The Reincarnationist Papers (which is, by all accounts, equally underwhelming).

Infinite is essentially about a small group of people known as the infinites who are pretty much reincarnated after they die, in the sense that they can eventually remember their past lives and skills obtained in those lives. Evan McCauley (Mark Wahlberg), who is known to the other reincarnated as Heinrich Treadway (one of his past reincarnation names), lives most of his new life never really knowing he is one of the reincarnated and is instead diagnosed as a schizophrenic. What Evan doesn’t know is that somewhere in his memories lies the location of an object known as the egg, which the infinites are trying to find before Ted (Chiwetel Ejiofor), another infinite who goes by the name of Bathurst, finds it.

Mark Wahlberg in Infinite

Fuqua essentially orients his film around this plot device and creates a goose chase for his characters in the process. This plot device is desired by Bathurst who wants to harness it to destroy the world so that there is nothing left to reincarnate to — effectively rendering the reincarnation process as finished. The problem with the film is that it relies too much on this specific object as a catalyst for creating cause and effect, and this leaves the events of the film lacking substance.

Mark Wahlberg looks confused and bored for most of the film, with his real flair coming during the action set pieces, which themselves amount to nothing as they are too few and far. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character is also incredibly underwritten and exists purely for the sake of being an antagonist — he delivers some lines about his purpose, kills off some equally underwritten characters, and is waterboarded with gasoline for some reason. In essence, both the protagonist and antagonist are uninspired, especially when compared to The Tomorrow War’s protagonist and alien entity which are miles better for an action sci-fi.

Perhaps Antoine Fuqua should have found a way to incorporate another 40minutes for greater clarity (seeing as Paramount already seemed set on going all in on this) or perhaps he should have focused on releasing one feature this year instead of two, seeing as The Guilty (2021) arrives later this year. Regardless, Infinite is a forgettable viewing experience and is a reminder that Michael Bay is still the only director to get the best out of Wahlberg in the last 20 years. Lets hope Paramount can bring its lacking streaming service some content worth audiences time and money.

Infinite is now streaming on Paramount +