Review: ‘Queenpins,’ starring Kristen Bell and Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Paul Walter Hauser, Bebe Rexha and Vince Vaughn

September 8, 2021

by Carla Hay

Kirby Howell-Baptiste and Kristen Bell in “Queenpins” (Photo courtesy of STX)

“Queenpins”

Directed by Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Southwest region of the United States and in Chihuahua, Mexico, the comedy film “Queenpins” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class

Culture Clash: A neglected housewife and her best friend team up for a coupon-stealing scam that could make them millions of dollars.

Culture Audience: “Queenpins” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Kristen Bell and anyone who likes cliché-filled comedies.

Paul Walter Hauser and Vince Vaughn in “Queenpins” (Photo courtesy STX)

“Queenpins” could have been a hilarious satire of coupon culture, but this boring and unimaginative comedy fizzles at the halfway mark and never recovers. Kristen Bell is usually the best thing about any of the bad movies she’s in, but in “Queenpins,” she just seems to be going through the motions. This movie has several talented stars but they’re stuck portraying two-dimensional characters and are forced to say a lot of cringeworthy dialogue that isn’t very funny.

Written and directed by husband-and-wife duo Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly, “Queenpins” hits all the cliché beats of comedies about ordinary people who decide to rob the rich in order to fight back at an unfair system. The movie is inspired by true events. In “Queenpins,” the thieves are unhappily married homemaker Connie Kaminski (played by Bell) and unemployed YouTube personality Joanna “JoJo” Johnson (played by Kirby Howell-Baptiste), who are best friends and next-door neighbors in Phoenix. Connie and JoJo are in debt and are tired of being broke.

Within six months, Connie and JoJo end up making $5 million in a scam of stealing coupons from a coupon redemption company called Advanced Solutions and then reselling the coupons. Because they’re committing fraud against major corporations, Connie and JoJo think of themselves as modern-day Robin Hoods—except they don’t really give any of their misbegotten fortune to poor people. They end up keeping the $5 million for themselves. And then, they panic because they think they should launder the money. And so, Connie and JoJo get mixed up in illegal gun deals and other shenanigans.

This scam was all Connie’s idea. She’s become a coupon addict, ever since she had a miscarriage of a baby girl. Connie is using her coupon addiction to cope with her grief. Connie’s aloof husband Rick Kaminski (played by Joel McHale) is a senior audit specialist for the Internal Revenue Service. The couple had been trying to start a family through in vitro fertilization treatments, which have left Connie and Rick more than $71,000 in debt.

Connie and Rick’s arguments with each other are mostly about money. Because of Connie’s coupon-using obsession, she has overstocked their home with products that they don’t need. After the miscarriage, Rick decided to take on more traveling responsibilities in his job, so he’s away from home for about three weeks out of any given month.

JoJo lives with her cranky mother Josephine Johnson (played by Greta Oglesby), also known as Mama Josie, who’s gotten tired of supporting her jobless daughter. JoJo has been trying and failing to become a beauty-product guru on YouTube. And she’s heavily in debt because she was the victim of identity theft, which ruined her credit. At first, JoJo is very reluctant to get involved in Connie’s plans to commit coupon fraud, but Connie convinces JoJo that they probably won’t get caught.

During their coupon-theft scheme, Connie and JoJo predictably come across a series of “wacky characters” and the inevitable people who try to bust these coupon scammers. The first authority figure who gets suspicious of this fraud is uptight but dimwitted Ken Miller (played by Paul Walter Hauser), a loss protection manager for the Southwest region of a supermarket chain called A&G. He’s eventually joined by gruff-mannered Simon Kilmurry (played by Vince Vaughn), a U.S. Postal Service inspector. Ken and Simon both have huge egos and inevitably clash over who should be in charge of the investigation.

“Queenpins” has a talented cast, but the problem is in the dull screenplay and hackneyed direction. Connie and JoJo have believable chemistry together as friends, but the supporting characters just come in and out of the story like disconnected pieces of a puzzle. Bebe Rexha plays a bustier-wearing, cynical ex-friend of Connie’s named Tempe Tina, who is a con artist/computer hacker extraordinaire who dresses in all-black clothing. Connie and JoJo go to Tina for advice on how to be successful criminals.

“Queenpins” attempts to make jokes about race relations that end up falling flat. JoJo’s mother constantly has to point out what she sees as differences between white people and black people. Mama Josie has a fear of JoJo losing her “blackness” by hanging out too much with white people like Connie and having the same interests that Connie has. Mama Josie’s mindset is racist, but it’s somehow supposed to be excused and thought of as humorous in this movie. This attitude becomes annoying after a while.

And when Connie and JoJo go to Chihuahua, Mexico, they recruit a married Mexican couple named Alejandro (played by Francisco J. Rodriguez) and Rosa (played by Ilia Isorelýs Paulinoa), who work at Advanced Solutions’ biggest factory. Alejandro and Rosa are enlisted to steal the boxes of coupons that end up making about $5 million for Connie and JoJo. When Connie and JoJo first meet Alejandro and Rosa, they follow the couple by car when they see Alejandro and Rosa outside of the factory.

Alejandro and Rosa mistakenly think that Connie and JoJo want to rob them, so the couple almost physically assaults the two pals, until Connie and JoJo explain that they want to hire Alejandro and Rosa for this theft. Rosa explains why she and her husband were so quick to attack: “You never follow people in Mexico,” thereby stereotyping Mexico as a dangerous place all the time.

The movie makes a very weak attempt at social commentary about labor exploitation and how American companies outsource jobs to other countries for cheaper labor. But those ideas are left by the wayside, as the movie follows a very over-used formula of amateur criminals (Connie and JoJo) who make things worse for themselves. As an example of how “Queenpins” brings up and then abandons labor exploitation issues, Connie and JoJo are shocked that Alejandro and Rosa each make a factory salary of only $2 an hour, but then Connie and JoJo continue with their selfish and greedy plans.

Viewers won’t have much sympathy for Connie and JoJo because they make so many dumb mistakes. As a way to sell their stolen coupons, Connie and JoJo create a website, which is not on the Dark Web, called Savvy Super Saver. JoJo also peddles the coupons on her YouTube channel, thereby making it very easy to identify her as one of the culprits.

“Queenpins” is told mainly from Connie’s perspective, because she is the one who does the movie’s voiceover narration. Connie has an unusual history as a three-time Olympic gold medalist in race walking, but that background is barely explored in the movie. Instead, Connie says a lot of uninteresting things in her bland dialogue.

Of her Olympic experiences, she comments: “You know what that’s worth in the real world? Nothing!” She has this personal motto on saving money in her coupon fixation: “Watch the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves.” And when Connie decides to become a criminal, she explains her justification to JoJo this way: “You know who gets rewarded? People who don’t follow the rules. It’s time we start bending them a little!”

Among the other irritating aspects of “Queenpins” are the overly intrusive sitcom-ish musical score and soundtrack choices. When Connie struts into a business meeting with the fake persona of being a powerhouse entrepreneur, she wears a snug-fitting blue dress and blue blazer, while the movie’s soundtrack blares Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels’ 1967 hit “Devil With a Blue Dress On.” It’s just too “on the nose” and corny, just like the majority of this movie. There’s a gross (but not too explicit) defecation scene involving Ken, after he talks about his food habits and defecation routine, which seems like a lazy and cheap shot at someone who’s plus-sized.

Some of the other supporting characters in “Queenpins” include postal carrier Earl (played by Dayo Okeniyi), who has a crush on JoJo and becomes her obvious love interest; Greg Garcia (played by Eduardo Franco), a jaded cashier at the A&G store where Connie does her grocery shopping; a coupon buyer named Crystal (played by Annie Mumolo), who reports her suspicions about JoJo; and Agent Park (played by Jack McBrayer), one of the law enforcement agents involved in a sting to capture Connie and JoJo.

“Queenpins” has all the characteristics of a substandard TV comedy, which means it’s certainly not worth the price of a movie ticket. People who are very bored, have low standards, or are die-hard fans of any of the “Queenpins” headliners might get some enjoyment out of this film. At one point in the movie, Bell’s Connie character says, “You may be asking yourself, ‘Who won and who lost in all of this?’ I guess that’s really for you to decide.” If you don’t want to lose or waste any time on silly comedies that don’t do anything original, then you can decide to skip “Queenpins.”

STX will release “Queenpins” in select U.S. cinemas (exclusively in Cinemark theaters) on September 10, 2021. Paramount+ will premiere “Queenpins” on September 30, 2021.

Review: ‘We Broke Up,’ starring William Jackson Harper and Aya Cash

April 25, 2021

by Carla Hay

Aya Cash and William Jackson Harper in “We Broke Up” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“We Broke Up”

Directed by Jeff Rosenberg

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, romantic comedy “We Broke Up” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A live-in couple in their early 30s, who have been together for 10 years, break up the day before they travel to her sister’s wedding and decide to keep their break-up a secret until after the wedding. 

Culture Audience: “We Broke Up” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching lightweight, escapist entertainment about the ups and downs of romantic relationships.

Sarah Bolger and Tony Cavalero in “We Broke Up” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

It might be enough to make some people cringe that “We Broke Up” takes place mostly around a wedding, because weddings are an over-used plot device for romantic comedies. “We Broke Up” is not as cliché-ridden as it could have been, but it’s not a particularly imaginative movie either. What makes the film worth watching are the lead actors’ mostly believable and relatable performances.

Directed by Jeff Rosenberg (who co-wrote the screenplay with Laura Jacqmin), “We Broke Up” starts off with the breakup that’s in the movie’s title. Lori (played by Aya Cash) and Doug (played by William Jackson Harper), who are both in their early 30s, live together in an unnamed U.S. city and have been a couple for 10 years. Lori is a barista in a coffee shop, while Doug’s job isn’t mentioned in the movie but it’s implied that he makes more money than Lori does.

In the beginning of the movie, Lori and Doug are waiting for their takeout order at a restaurant and are acting slightly goofy with each other. As they’re waiting, Doug blurts out to Lori: “Marry me.” Her response is to vomit on his shoes. The next thing viewers see are Doug and Lori sitting stone-faced in their car and not saying anything to each other. Lori looks as if she’s been crying.

What did they say to each other after Lori vomited on Doug? That conversation is revealed later in the movie, but viewers next find out that Doug broke up with Lori because she said no to his marriage proposal. The timing couldn’t be worse, because the next day, Doug and Lori are supposed to go on a road trip to attend the wedding of Lori’s younger sister Bea (played by Sarah Bolger), and Doug is supposed to be one of the groomsmen at the wedding.

Lori assumes that Doug won’t be going to the wedding because of the breakup. But he insists on going because he feels obligated. For whatever reason, Doug calls himself “the king of the ushers” for the wedding. After some back-and-forth arguing, Lori agrees to go with Doug to the wedding. But she’s still reeling from the breakup and she makes a compromise with Doug that he can go to the wedding if they don’t tell anyone about the breakup until after the wedding. The wedding is taking place on a weekend, so Lori and Doug have three days to keep their breakup a secret.

Bea and her fiancé Jayson (played by Tony Cavalero) got engaged after knowing each other for only one month. Bea is in her early 20s, and Jayson (who’s about 15 years older than Bea) is a divorced dad with a young son, who is not at the wedding. Jayson (who’s an overgrown man-child and somewhat dimwitted) and Bea (who’s flaky and fickle) have the type of touch-feely giddiness with each other where they seem very much in love, but the people close to them have doubts that the relationship will last.

One of those doubters is Bea and Lori’s divorced mother Adelaide (played by Peri Gilpin), who disapproves of Bea and Jayson getting married because Adelaide thinks the marriage will be a mistake. But there’s nothing she can do to stop Bea and Jayson, so Adelaide is attending the wedding. Based on the interactions that Adelaide has with her two daughters, Lori is the one whom Adelaide has more respect for because she thinks that Lori is a more stable person than Bea.

Adelaide also approves of Lori and Doug being together—so much so, that Adelaide calls Lori and Doug her “favorite couple.” She’s elated to see Lori and Doug when they arrive at the Arrowhead Pines Lodge, where the wedding will be taking place. The lodge used to be a summer camp where Bea and Lori would go when they were children. In a meeting with the lodge’s event planner, Bea comments, “What is more fun than getting married at the place where you got your first period?”

Right away, the typical rom-com uncomfortable situations begin. Lori doesn’t want to stay in the same room as Doug, but all the rooms in the main part of the lodge are booked up. The front-desk clerk named Mike (played by Eduardo Franco) also tells them that there are no rooms available with separate beds, but a distant part of the lodge has a room available with a bunk bed. Mike says it will take a couple of hours to change Doug and Lori’s reservation, but when Jayson hears that Doug and Lori want to get a different room, he slips a bribe to Mike to speed up the process.

There’s a long stretch of “We Broke Up” that drags in the lead-up to the wedding. During the wedding rehearsal dinner, Doug makes a toast to the future bride and groom, by giving an emotionally moving and humorous speech about the first time that he met Bea. It was shortly after Doug and Lori began dating.

Bea was a middle schooler and drunk when she crashed her sled into a birdbath. Bea had to go to a hospital emergency room, and Doug and Lori spent time getting to know each other better while the two were in the waiting room at the hospital. In his speech, Doug mentions that this was a turning point in his relationship with Lori, when he knew that he felt like he could be a part of their family.

Bea and Jayson are very immature, and they have their wedding guests participate in a summer camp games that kids would play—except there’s heavy alcohol drinking and some marijuana edibles involved in this partying. The least interesting parts of “We Broke Up” are the scenes where the wedding party guests who are in their 20s and 30s play a game called Paul Bunyan Day. The Paul Bunyan Day scenes seem like a lot of filler.

The guests are divided into two mixed-gender teams: Team Babe (which wears blue) and Team Lumberjack (which wears red), and each team has to perform a set of challenges after chugging alcohol before each challenge. There are 11 golden axes that are hidden as part of the game. The object of the game is to be the team to collect the most golden axes. When people get drunk or stoned in a romantic comedy, that just means some silly hijinks will ensue.

Jayson’s best man is a neurotic named Ari (played by Kobi Libii) and the movie makes some bland jokes made about Ari being Jewish. For example, there’s a scene where Ari asks Doug which yarmulke he should wear at the wedding. He has a choice of five yarmulkes and can’t decide which one to wear, so he he repetitively analyzes each one. It’s a joke that falls flat.

Bea is the type of person who has a short attention span when it comes to deciding on a career. Her latest idea is to start a bespoke scrunchie business. The jokes should write themselves with that idea, but the movie doesn’t explore this comedic angle for enough laughs.

Jasyon has a co-worker named Roya (played by Azita Ghanizada), who lives in San Francisco. Roya has a British accent, she’s intelligent, and when she and Doug meet, they have come possible romantic sparks between them. Later, they spend some time alone and the movie shows whether or not Doug and Roya will act on this attraction.

Meanwhile, a good-looking guy named Eric (played by Zak Steiner), who is one of Bea’s former classmates from high school, is a wedding guest. Eric makes it clear as soon as he sees Lori that he’s romantically interested in Lori. Considering that Lori and Doug are no longer together but have to pretend to be a couple to everyone else, it’s easy to guess how the movie will make a potentially new love interest an extra complication for Lori and Doug.

The plot for “We Broke Up” isn’t as simple as Doug and Lori trying to keep their breakup a secret. There are two plot twists (one is more predictable than the other) that are fueled by insecurities when it comes to love. Observant viewers will notice that there’s an unspoken sibling rivalry between Lori and Bea. Lori might be feeling envious that her younger sister is in a happy romance, while Bea might be feeling envious that Lori seems to have the “perfect” relationship with Doug.

Some of what happens during these three days seems contrived for a movie, but the scenarios aren’t entirely far-fetched. Bea and Jayson are almost cartoon-like, but Lori and Doug are a more realistic couple, in terms of their relationship and how they deal with their problems. There are hints that the divorce of Lori and Bea’s parents (their father abandoned the family) has affected Lori and Bea in different ways. Lori is suspicious of marriage (which is why she said no to Doug’s proposal), while Bea is the type who falls in love quickly and has a tendency to bail on relationships if she thinks they’re too much hard work.

“We Broke Up” works the best when it shows the dynamics between Lori and Doug, because what happens to them during this wedding weekend is at the heart of the story. As Doug and Lori, Harper and Cash give very watchable and interesting performances. Despite some parts of the movie that are a little boring, the last third of the film is the best part, because it’s about reconciling people’s expectations of a relationship with the reality of what’s best for the individuals in the relationship.

Vertical Entertainment released “We Broke Up” in select U.S. cinemas on April 16, 2021, and on digital and VOD on April 23, 2021.

Review: ‘The Binge,’ starring Skyler Gisondo, Dexter Darden, Eduardo Franco, Grace Van Dien, Zainne Saleh and Vince Vaughn

August 28, 2020

by Carla Hay

Dexter Darden, Skyler Gisondo and Eduardo Franco in “The Binge” (Photo by Paul Viggiano/Hulu)

“The Binge” 

Directed by Jeremy Garelick

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the comedy film “The Binge” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Three friends who are seniors in high school want to win a drug-fueled contest called The Gauntlet, which happens on the one day of the year when all drugs are legal to use for people ages 18 and over.

Culture Audience: “The Binge” will appeal mostly to people who like watching mindless teen comedies.

Skyler Gisondo and Grace Van Dien in “The Binge” (Photo by Paul Viggiano/Hulu)

It seems like “The Binge” was a movie that was inspired at least partially by “The Purge” franchise, and the filmmakers decided to use the same gimmick of “one day of the year that certain crimes are legal” and put it in a very derivative and not-very-funny teen comedy. “The Purge” horror franchise (which includes movies and a TV series spinoff) is all about showing what happens in the U.S. on the one day of the year that all crimes are legal. “The Binge,” which is far from a horror story, instead shows what happens in an unnamed U.S. city, specifically among a group of high schoolers, on the one day of the year that all drugs become legal to use by anyone who’s at least 18 years old.

Besides the obvious “binge and purge” analogy, “The Binge” takes a lot of its cues from “The Purge,” by having the same concept that the reason for this “one day it’s legal to commit certain crimes” is to act as a deterrent to commit the crimes in the future. The idea is that when people get to release these pent-up criminal urges out of their system and are allowed to commit these crimes for one day out of the year, they’ll be so repelled by the horrible results, that it will make them less likely to commit the crimes during the other days of the year when the crimes are illegal.

In the world of “The Binge” (which was directed by Jeremy Garelick and written by Jordan VanDina), alcohol and nicotine are among the drugs that are illegal except for on Binge Day. It’s explained in the beginning of the movie that the reason for this modern-day Prohibition is because America’s drug problem got so out-of-control that lawmakers decided to ban all drugs that have been medically proven to cause diseases (such as cancer) and deaths.

The high schoolers who are at the center of this story sometimes talk about their parents reminiscing about the “good old days” when they could get drunk and it wouldn’t be a crime. (The school in the movie is called American High, which is a cheeky nod to the American High production company that made this film.) Binge Day is therefore a big deal to the teens, especially those who are old enough to participate.

In addition to “The Purge” ripoff idea, “The Binge” recycles most of the over-used tropes that are found in teen movies, including the average-looking, not-very-popular guy who has a secret crush on a good-looking, popular girl. The “average guy” is the story’s protagonist whom the audience is supposed to root for when he keeps bungling his changes to impress the girl he wants to date. In “The Binge,” this guy is Griffin Friedlander (played by Skyler Gisondo), who spends almost the whole movie trying to work up the nerve to ask his dream girl out on a date.

Griffin’s crush is Lena (played by Grace Van Dien), and she’s a student at the same high school, where they are both seniors. And, of course, Griffin wants to ask her to the school’s prom, but he’s too shy. Lena is nice to Griffin, because they’ve known each other for several years, but she seems to want to put him in the casual “friend zone.” 

The average guy/protagonist usually isn’t a complete loner, because he usually has a sidekick/best friend, who’s more confident/wacky/extroverted than he is. In “The Binge,” that character is Hags (played by Dexter Darden), who has his own secret crush who goes to the same school. Hags wants to date bratty troublemaker Sarah Martin (played by Zainne Saleh), who predictably wants nothing to do with him.

And often, in formulaic teen movies like this one, there’s a third person who ends up in the “underdog” group of friends who spend most of the movie trying to achieve the same goal. The “third wheel/weirdo” in the story is Andrew (played by Eduardo Franco), who’s not very close to Griffin and Hags, but Andrew ends up hanging out with them and becoming their friend by default because he wants to be their “wingman” during Binge Day.

Andrew wants to help Hags and Griffin win The Gauntlet, a Binge Day endurance contest to see who can take the most hard drugs and drink the most alcohol without overdosing and ending up in a hospital or dead. There’s no real prize for this contest, except bragging rights and a photo that hangs on a wall in some random place that’s never explained in the movie. The participants in this contest are mostly people in their teens and 20s.

Griffin is the type of student who’s obedient and doesn’t like taking risks, so he’s very reluctant to participate in The Gauntlet. Hags convinces Griffin that they should enter the contest because it will impress the girls they want to impress. When Lena tells Griffin that she’s thinking of binging on Binge Day, he decides to enter The Gauntlet.

Griffin is also motivated to impress Lena when he finds out that a mystery admirer has asked her to the school’s prom by giving her a series of riddle-filled notes that the admirer leaves as clues to his identity. Lena hasn’t given an answer yet because she doesn’t know who her mystery admirer is, but she assumes it’s a very popular student whom she has a crush on but she thinks he might be out of her league. Part of the movie’s plot is a “race against time” for Griffin to impress Lena and ask her to be his prom date before she can find out the identity of her mystery admirer.

And let’s not forget about the parents in the movie, which makes these authority figures into the same tired stereotypes that have been seen before in dozens of other teen comedies. The head of the school is Principal Carlsen (played by Vince Vaughn), who is tyrannical and takes pleasure in punishing students who break the rules. Therefore, he’s always on the lookout for the students to do something wrong so he can bust them. And what a coincidence: Principal Carlsen also happens to be Lena’s father, making it even more nerve-wracking for Griffin to ask Lena out on a date.

Griffin’s parents Karyn and Chester (played by Jessica Kirson and Elon Gold) and Hags’ parents (played Deanna McKinney and Godfrey) are somewhat generic characters that are briefly shown in the movie. Something happens in the movie to explain why these parents don’t interfere in their kids’ Binge Day plans.

Every teen movie usually has at least one parent who behaves inappropriately. And in “The Binge,” that character is Andrew’s single mother Diedre (played by Eileen Galindo), who inflicts abuse on him one minute (she puts out her cigar on his tongue during an argument) and then acts lovey-dovey the next minute, by sweetly telling him, “I love you … Give me a kiss.”

During a school assembly, Principal Carlsen lectures the students about the dangers of Binge Day and tells the students who are 18 years old that they shouldn’t participate in Binge Day, even though it would be legal. As a scare tactic, Principal Carlsen shows examples of some people who died or were permanently disabled because of drug-fueled antics they indulged in on Binge Day. Of course, it’s a scare tactic that doesn’t work because plenty of the legal-age students are planning to participate in Binge Day.

Participants and attendees of The Gauntlet are given a wristband to enter the place where The Gauntlet is being held. While showing up unannounced in the boys’ locker room, Principal Carlsen sees that Griffin has one of these wristbands. A nervous Griffin makes up a lie that the wristband isn’t his and that he accidentally found the wristband. Principal Carlsen then confiscates the wristband and warns Griffin that he better not participate in Binge Day.

How obnoxious is Principal Carlsen? In his conversation with Griffin in the locker room, Principal Carlsen speaks of troublemaking partier student Sarah in these derogatory terms: “That bitch has chaotic energy. She’s like a scorpion in a toaster.” And when Principal Carlsen sees Hags in the locker room, he tells Hags: “Try to find a nickname that’s a little more normal, like Lucas or Kwan.” These are lines that are supposed to pass as jokes in the movie.

After Principal Carlsen has taken Griffin’s wristband, misfit student Andrew ends up hanging out with Griffin and Hags because Andrew has the type of wristband that Griffin needs to get into The Gauntlet event. Instead of selling the wristband to Griffin, Andrew bargains with Griffin and Hags to be their “wingman” pal during Binge Day and to help them win The Gauntlet. Andrew’s bullying fraternal twin brother Seb (played by Esteban Benito) is also a contestant in The Gauntlet, so it’s clear that Andrew has another reason to want to win the contest.

“The Binge” has a lot of typical “teens who want to party” shenanigans in the scenes leading up to The Gauntlet. Most of these scenes aren’t really funny and have been done much better in other similar movies. It comes as no surprise that an animal (in this case, a cow) ends up being an unwilling part of these partying antics, which leads to the inevitable “No animals were harmed” disclaimer in the movie’s end credits.

One of the problems with “The Binge” is that so much of it is repetitive filler. And the cast members do nothing outstanding in their performances, although Franco has a few scene-stealing moments. “The Binge” is supposed to be raunchy, but it holds back on showing a lot of adult-oriented debauchery during the first two-thirds of the movie. Most of “The Binge” is about straight-laced Griffin acting horrified at some of the silly scenarios that happen on the way to The Gauntlet.

The one truly original moment in the movie is actually a little bizarre and out-of-place: The cast members break into a song-and-dance number called “We’re Gonna Get High.” It’s not supposed to be a drug-induced hallucination, but something that spontaneously happens while they’re all under various degrees of intoxication. The idea is that they’ve lost their inhibitions together and somehow magically came up with this song-and-dance number together.

This “We’re Gonna Get High” musical number looks and sounds like something that would have been in an episode of “Glee” if the episode was about getting stoned at a party. The song is very much in the mold of a high-school musical. In other words, there’s nothing really edgy about it, even if the lyrics mention cocaine, heroin and PCP. The song was written by “The Binge” director Garelick, screenwriter VanDina, Christopher Lennertz and Matt Bowen. It seems as if this random musical scene in “The Binge” was concocted as a sugary-sweet way to deflect any criticism the movie might get for glorifying drug binges. What’s actually more offensive is that “The Binge” just isn’t funny.

As for the idea that people would willingly ingest as many drugs as possible in order to win a stupid contest, “The Binge” makes no attempt to show that the main characters could put themselves in danger by doing this medically dangerous stunt. It should come as no surprise that no one in this group dies or ends up in a hospital, because that would ruin the limited comedy of this mindless film. “The Binge” wants to be a teen version of “The Hangover” meets “The Purge,” but almost all the jokes and scenarios fall flat. Instead of “The Binge,” this movie should be called “The Cringe.”

Hulu premiered “The Binge” on August 28, 2020.

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