By John Mulderig | Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — A duo of flighty amateur crooks and an ill-assorted pair of law enforcers draw laughs in the fact-based caper comedy “Queenpins” (STX). Yet, while the film is amusing, it’s also morally flawed. So careful discernment is required to separate the humorous wheat from the ethical chaff.
Strapped for cash, suburban housewife Connie Kaminski (Kristen Bell) and her best friend JoJo Johnson (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), the owner of an unsuccessful line of cosmetics, strike on the idea of collecting and selling coupons for free products. By getting a married couple who are both employees of a Mexico-based firm that prints the vouchers to purloin them on a large scale, the pals quickly make a fortune.
But their activities soon come to the attention of Ken Miller (Paul Walter Hauser), the lonely and obsessive loss prevention officer for a large grocery store chain. His initial efforts to get the FBI excited about the case prove fruitless until he casually mentions that the unknown suspects’ scheme involves using the mails.
Enter hard-driving postal inspector Simon Kilmurry (Vince Vaughn) whose solid good sense is in stark contrast to Ken’s overactive imagination and grandiose ambition to become some sort of G-man. Like the misadventures of Connie and JoJo, neither of whom is suited to life on the wrong side of the law, the friction between Simon and Ken is entertaining to watch.
Things begin to go awry, though, when the script — penned by co-directors Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly — takes a misguided detour with a subplot about Connie’s infertility and the measures she takes to overcome it, including artificial insemination.
This problem is part and parcel of Connie’s failing marriage to Rick (Joel McHale), a callous IRS official. The audience is clearly meant to see that Connie’s life would be improved by jettisoning Rick and this plays into a benignly viewed clinical development that’s flagrantly contrary to Scripture-based mores. It’s also used as an opportunity to work in brief rhetoric often heard from the supporters of legal abortion.
Even more fundamentally, the movie’s wrapup follows the sordid example of Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” by sending the message that, in the end, crime does indeed pay. Connie and JoJo’s venture, moreover, is implicitly depicted as a justified rebellion against corporate America and its oppression of ordinary working people.
Add to that an interlude of gross-out humor and a relentless barrage of vulgar language, and it’s clear that only those grown-ups willing to sort through a good deal of dross to find those elements of the picture that can ultimately be appreciated should tackle this production. “Queenpins” may be sharp, but it’s also prickly.
The film contains skewed values, immoral offscreen medical procedures, a sequence involving graphic scatological humor, a few uses of profanity, about a dozen milder oaths and pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.