The Grand

The Grand

2008, R, 104 min. Directed by Zak Penn. Starring Woody Harrelson, Cheryl Hines, Chris Parnell, Ray Romano, Dennis Farina, David Cross, Michael McKean, Richard Kind, Gabe Kaplan, Werner Herzog, Judy Greer, Estelle Harris, Andrea Savage, Barry Corbin, Shannon Elizabeth, Jason Alexander, Hank Azaria.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 4, 2008

There's a lot of truly hilarious material in The Grand, a semiscripted, semi-improvised movie about several characters who are competing in a Las Vegas championship poker tournament. A 20-minute package of those funny bits would be priceless, but at an hour and 45 minutes, The Grand is stuffed with too many unproductive improvs and actual poker-playing to be of sustained interest. Spoofing the recent phenomenon of televised poker tournaments (of both the professional and celebrity varieties), The Grand aims to do for poker what Best in Show did for canine competitions, but director Penn's film unfortunately takes home no blue ribbons. Consisting mainly of character quirks and backstories, The Grand has very little plot to speak of but enough characters to populate at least three separate movies. But really, why worry about measly details when deliciously funny moments are scattered about with such carefree abandon? Harrelson (in a bad hairpiece) is cast as the story's de facto central character, Jack Faro, an inveterate reprobate and Las Vegas scion who has just come out of a two-year-long rehab stint. There are also the sister-and-brother poker aces, Lainie (Hines) and Larry (Cross) Schwartzman, who are constantly pit against each other by their father (Kaplan – you know a movie has trouble the moment Gabe Kaplan is sent in to do its heavy dramatic lifting). Romano plays Lainie's fantasy-football-loving husband who's been struck by lightning; Parnell is a socially maladapted math whiz who's the No. 2 seed, while Parsons (George Costanza's mom) plays his mother; Farina is one of the old-timers who muses about things like the way culottes killed poker; and Kind plays the rube who stumbled into Internet poker playing while doing a Google search for fireplace pokers. The character who makes The Grand a must-see for film lovers is Herzog, whose character enters the hotel with several caged small animals and is only known as the "German." (Not since the Nihilists in The Big Lebowski has a movie German been quite this unsettling.) Director Penn previously worked with Herzog on the mock doc Incident at Loch Ness, and this duo definitely seems to connect on some sort of shared wavelength. Penn is best known for his screenplay work on big superhero movies such as Fantastic Four and the last couple of X-Men movies, so this desire for a cinematic change of pace is understandable. The riffs of comic actors often yield miraculous bits, but the director needs to know when to throw out the bath water and just hang on to the babies.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

The Grand, Zak Penn, Woody Harrelson, Cheryl Hines, Chris Parnell, Ray Romano, Dennis Farina, David Cross, Michael McKean, Richard Kind, Gabe Kaplan, Werner Herzog, Judy Greer, Estelle Harris, Andrea Savage, Barry Corbin, Shannon Elizabeth, Jason Alexander, Hank Azaria

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