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With: Woody Harrelson, Cheryl Hines, David Cross, Chris Parnell, Richard Kind, Werner Herzog, Dennis Farina, Michael McKean, Ray Romano, Julie Claire, Shannon Elizabeth, Mike Epps, Judy Greer, Estelle Harris, Gabe Kaplan, Michael Karnow, Andrea Savage, Jason Alexander, K.D. Aubert, Hank Azaria, David Beem, Ashley Bowler, Jeff Bowler, Doyle Brunson, Marc Chaiet, Sean Patrick Flaherty, Phil Gordon, Steve Grabowsky, Errol Guidry II, Phil Hellmuth Jr., Tom Hodges, Alec Holden, Kelly R. Kleinman, Phil Laak, Tommy 'Tiny' Lister, Hailey McCann, Rusty Meyers, Andrew Hill Newman, Peter O'Meara, David Pressman
Written by: Zak Penn, Matt Bierman
Directed by: Zak Penn
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some drug content
Running Time: 104
Date: 06/07/2007

The Grand (2008)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Tired Hand

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Mockumentaries must be fun to make, especially with an ensemble cast of capable comedians. You can practically set the actors loose and just film willy-nilly. But the trouble with most "mockumentaries" is that filmmakers tend to rely too heavily on plots, arcs, climaxes and resolutions. Consider the granddaddy of them all, This Is Spinal Tap (1984), which is just a series of events, one after the next, without much connecting them. It's the story of a rock tour, and it doesn't lead up to the big final show, or any other big final event. It's about everything that happens along the way, and the ending is almost insignificant.

The new The Grand, about a Las Vegas poker championship, starts promisingly by introducing us to its impressive and diverse cast, including Woody Harrelson, Cheryl Hines, David Cross, Dennis Farina, Richard Kind, Chris Parnell and Werner Herzog as the main card players. Michael McKean (lending some Spinal Tap cred), Shannon Elizabeth, Mike Epps, Judy Greer, Hank Azaria, Gabe Kaplan, Ray Romano and many others appear on the sidelines. Each character gets an instant personality, and each is ridiculous and endearing. Jack Faro (Harrelson) is trying to run his grandfather's casino, but keeps screwing it up due to drug and alcohol problems; he's been married some 70+ times and has even been thrown out of his own casino. The German (Herzog) likes to kill something -- often a small animal, but not always -- each and every day to make himself feel more alive. (He compares it to drinking coffee.) The mockumentary style works well, both ridiculing and copying the television spectacle that poker has become.

But when the big card game begins, and -- inevitably -- our seven big stars make it to the final round, the comedy stops and the competition begins. It becomes yet another Rocky-type standoff with strategy meeting adrenaline and victory as the ultimate goal. That's fine, if you're going to make that kind of movie, but writer/director Zak Penn wastes a lot of comedy potential here. During his day job, Penn is the very successful screenwriter of mainly superhero movies, including one good one (X2: X-Men United) and several bad ones (Last Action Hero, Inspector Gadget, Behind Enemy Lines, Suspect Zero, Elektra and X-Men: The Last Stand). Obviously his routine kicked in halfway through filming The Grand and he decided that sticking to the formula was more important than letting something organic or crazy happen. Moreover, rather than informing an intelligent audience all about the rules and intricacies of "Texas Hold 'Em" (as Curtis Hanson's unfairly reviled Lucky You did), Penn merely holds our hands and guides us through each play, through the use of TV announcers, as if we were too dim to understand.

However, the film's first 20 minutes -- when the story is still wide open -- contain some wonderful, hilarious moments, which is perhaps enough to squeeze into a movie trailer. Maybe it's better to just watch that instead.

DVD Details: Anchor Bay released the DVD after a brief theatrical run. It's fairly well-packed, with commentaries, alternate endings, deleted scenes, player profiles and other stuff.

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