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The Grand

The Fine Art of Losing

The world of high stakes poker is a subculture rife with eccentric personalities and the vaguely misanthropic. Not too surprisingly, it is a world that is ripe for ridicule and parodying. Writer/director Zak Penn delves deep into this world with his mockumentary comedy, The Grand.

Several of the more talented and interesting poker players travel to the ‘Rabbit’s Foot’ Casino for a winner take all ten million dollar poker tournament. None of these players has more at stake than Jack Faro (Woody Harrelson) who is trying to save the Rabbit’s Foot Casino which has given to him by his grandfather. Unfortunately, as talented as Faro may be at poker, he’s equally talented at taking illicit substances (crack, heroin, LSD, you name it) and screwing things up royally. Winning ‘The Grand’ is Faro’s last shot at redemption and his only shot at saving the casino.

While Faro is the nucleus around which The Grand revolves, the rest of the players are characters in their own right. The dynamic duo of Lainie (Cheryl Hines) and Larry (David Cross) Schwartzman were raised by a tyrant of a father who forced them to compete against each other at EVERYTHING as children. Lainie is a foul mouthed, quasi-dreadlocked machine at the poker table. Larry is obnoxious, abrasive, and determined to annoy all who share the table with him.

Playing the role of ‘rain man’ is Chris Parnell as Harold Melvin, a socially retarded, Dune obsessed numbers freak who can barely dress himself, but can wipe out just about any other player who stands in his path. Dennis Farino, Werner Herzog, Jason Alexander, and Ray Romano also have some nice moments in the film.

Penn was fortunate to have an exceptional cast of comedic actors at his disposal for this mockumentary send-up of the world of high stakes poker. While there was a general outline/structure for the actors to follow, much of the film was improvised. The Grand doesn’t lack for genuinely funny moments, but despite the improvisational nature of the film, much of The Grand felt scripted and structured.

One has to wonder if some of this has to do with Penn’s extensive experience penning VERY structured screenplays for big blockbusters like Last Action Hero, Fantastic Four, and X2. While there are many funny moments, they don’t have the same kind of outrageous, absurd, and awkward feel to them that are the hallmark of films like Best in Show.

The Grand is a solidly entertaining comedy that is bound to please poker fans and non-poker fans alike. But, the film lacks consistent laughs from start to finish which prevents it from entering the pantheon of mockumentary classics such as Best in Show and This Is Spinal Tap. But, The Grand does succeed at being one of the better comedies this year.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars