At The Movies: Caper comedy Queenpins is aimless; drama Drive My Car takes a while to reach destination

Still from the film Queenpins starring Kristen Bell (left) and Kirby Howell-Baptiste.
Still from the film Queenpins starring Kristen Bell (left) and Kirby Howell-Baptiste.PHOTO: MM2 ENTERTAINMENT

Queenpins (NC16)

111 minutes, opens on Thursday (Sept 9), 2 stars

This well-intentioned but aimless caper comedy based on a true story also touches on female empowerment. This is not a new tactic, but what sets this apart is the scale.

While other films feature femme felons drugging strip-club guests and then robbing them, carrying out elaborate jewellery heists or seeking bloody vengeance on the mob that did their husbands dirty, this movie goes small.

The setting is suburbia and the loot is supermarket coupons, the alternative currency that for cash-strapped families can mean a week of groceries or going without. There is nothing wrong with the film's wholesomeness or intimate scale. In fact, the absence of metropolitan slickness feels fresh.

Kristen Bell's Connie is an unhappy housewife who, like many Americans, is drawn into the world of extreme couponing, an activity that fills a void in her life. Her best friend JoJo, played by an effervescent Kirby Howell-Baptiste, is a social media influencer trying to find an audience.

Connie's coupon fever leads her to concoct a scheme that will plump up her and JoJo's bank accounts, while making the dreams of struggling families come true. Their scheme draws the attention of supermarket loss prevention officer Ken (Paul Walter Hauser) and postal inspector Simon (Vince Vaughn).

Bell and Howell-Baptiste sparkle as a duo, which is not surprising as both starred in the sitcom The Good Place (2016 to 2020) - a show that, like this movie, favours therapeutic optimism over cynical takedowns.

The husband-and-wife writing and directing team of Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly throws soft punches at corporate capitalism while suggesting that the criminal duo are Robin Hoods. This would have worked, if not for the misfired attempt at making the co-conspirators cheekily relatable and the underdeveloped observations about life in the American suburbs.

Drive My Car (R21)

179 minutes, opens on Thursday (Sept 9) exclusively at The Projector, 3 stars


Still from the film Drive My Car. PHOTO: LIGHTHOUSE FILM DISTRIBUTION

This drama is adapted from acclaimed Japanese writer Haruki Murakami's short story of the same title, published in the 2014 collection Men Without Women. Parts of this three-hour work appear to also be taken from Scheherazade, another of the book's stories.

This being a Murakami adaptation, expect a troubled central male character, bizarre dreams, stubbornly unreadable women, sexual jealousy and Beatles song titles. Cats and jazz are noticeably absent, though.

Theatre director Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and his wife, television screenwriter Oto (Reika Kirishima), seem to have it all, but hidden tensions gnaw at them.

Following a tragedy, Kafuku seeks emotional solace in his vintage sports car, as well as in an ambitious staging of Anton Chekhov's classic drama Uncle Vanya, featuring a multilingual pan-Asian cast. The theatre company he works for stipulates that he must use a chauffeur, so he is forced to hand the wheel to Misaki (Toko Miura), a tight-lipped young woman.

The internal monologues in Murakami's text remain unverbalised in director and co-writer Ryusuke Hamaguchi's pared-down, narration-free adaptation, so Kafuku's inner journey must be inferred from what he does - in particular the scenes in which he and his Uncle Vanya actors workshop the play.

The clever art-versus-real-life mirroring helped this film bag the Best Screenplay prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Even if one is aware that this film is as much a celebration of tone and mood as it is of plot, the play-within-a-play scenes go on even after the point is made.

A more concise edit would have helped snap this repetitive work into sharper focus.

Escape From Mogadishu (PG13)

121 minutes, now showing, not reviewed


Still from the film Escape from Mogadishu starring Kim Yoon-seok (left) and Jo In-sung. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

This action-drama based on real events is today the highest-grossing movie of this year in its home market of South Korea.

It is 1991 and Han (Kim Yoon-seok), the South Korean ambassador to Somalia, is trapped in the capital with his family as civil war breaks out. Helped by Kang (Jo In-sung), an intelligence officer, and joined by desperate North Korean diplomats who have become unlikely allies, the group must find a way to reach the airport, where evacuation awaits.