The Grand

Zak Penn's mockumentary about professional poker was largely improvised by its stellar cast, and if it never achieves the razor's-edge balance of broad laughs and barbed insights into human frailty of, say, A MIGHTY WIND (2003), it delivers plenty of sharply funny moments. The best poker players in American are gathering in Las Vegas for the Grand Championship...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Zak Penn's mockumentary about professional poker was largely improvised by its stellar cast, and if it never achieves the razor's-edge balance of broad laughs and barbed insights into human frailty of, say, A MIGHTY WIND (2003), it delivers plenty of sharply funny moments.

The best poker players in American are gathering in Las Vegas for the Grand Championship of Poker, all hoping to walk away with the $10,000,000 pot. Two underlying dramas play themselves out around the ever-shrinking tables. Fresh off two years in rehab, compulsive, cross-addicted "One Eyed Jack" Faro (Woody Harrelson), who inherited the venerable Rabbit's Foot casino from his grandfather, Lucky Faro (), once owned the rights to "The Grand." He lost them in a bad business deal – he bet televised poker was a fad and that bingo was the next big thing -- and is about to lose the Rabbit's Foot to ruthless developer Steve Lavisch (Michael McKean). Winning the Grand is Jack's only chance of saving his Grandpa Lucky's legacy. Meanwhile, siblings Lainie and Larry Shwartzman (Cheryl Hines, David Cross) are playing out a lifelong sibling rivalry fostered by their manipulative father (Gabe Kaplan), who always favored Lainie. Their the center of a three-ring circus of eccentrics: Autistic Dune-freak Harold Melvin (Chris Parnell) and his doting mom (Estelle Harris); foul-mouthed old-timer Deuce Fairbanks (Dennis Farina), who mourns the Vegas where Jews had to use the back door and you could break knees in the parking lot; the enigmatic German (Werner Herzog), who preps for games by drinking the blood of small animals; Lainie's husband, Fred (Ray Romano), who hasn't been right since je was struck by lightning; and naïve Andy Andrews (Richard Kind), a small town math teacher and internet-poker star who's never played live. Mike Werbe (Michael Carnow) – who shills shamelessly for his how-to guides -- and real-life card pro Phil Gordon provide ongoing commentary for the poker impaired.

The film is one long series of riffs -- some very funny -- leading up to the final roundtable showdown. Even it was unscripted, the outcome determined by the luck of the draw and how well the cast (needless to say, dominated by real-life poker enthusiasts) played their hands. Filmed improvisation inherently lacks the high-wire tension of live improv, but Penn's cast is top notch and German director Werner Herzog – who starred in Penn's 2004 mockumentary, INCIDENT AT LOCH NESS -- once again turns in a dryly hilarious performance that will surprise anyone who knows him only through footage of his notorious on-set dust ups with actor Klaus Kinski.

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  • Released: 2008
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Zak Penn's mockumentary about professional poker was largely improvised by its stellar cast, and if it never achieves the razor's-edge balance of broad laughs and barbed insights into human frailty of, say, A MIGHTY WIND (2003), it delivers plenty of sharp… (more)

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