It's hard to be a poker fan in the world of movies. Let's face it, how many great poker movies can you think of? "Rounders" perhaps. Despite "Texas Hold'Em" growing extraordinarily popular over the last few years, Hollywood has really failed to capitalize on the trend. I'm happy to report that the wait is over. "The Grand" not only emerges as a wonderful poker film, but also one of the best comedies I've seen in ages. While it doesn't seem to be well known now, I predict it will find a massive audience on DVD and Cable, ala "Office Space".
"The Grand" is a mocumentary (in the tradition of Christopher Guest), following six players as they compete in huge Texas Hold'em tournament in Nevada. Along the way we meet many other supporting characters, including family and friends of the main six, as well as other participants in the tournament. The initial six are
Woody Harrelson as "One Eyed" Jack Faro. He is a lifetime drug abuser who has inherited the "Rabbit's Foot Casino" from his grandfather. A large debt has forced him to enter into the tournament his Casino is hosting.
Cheryl Hines as Lainie Schwartzman. She is a mother of five who supports her family (which includes a deadbeat husband) as a professional poker player. She is also the sister of
David Cross as Larry Schwartzman. He is also a professional poker player, known around the circuit for his obnoxious behavior. The fact that his father puts his support behind his sister Lainie only motivates him more to win the tournament.
Chris Parnell as Harold Melvin. A statistics expert who uses his knowledge of numbers to his advantage as a poker pro. He is also ludicrously Anti-Social, and lives still lives with his elderly mother.
Dennis Farina as Deuce Fairbanks. The old timer who's been on the scene for years, and has nothing but contempt for what's become of the game over the past few years.
Richard Kind as Andy Andrews. A novice player who won an online poker tournament by chance to win his seat at "The Grand", despite knowing absolutely nothing about the game of poker.
Some supporting performers include Judy Greer, Michael McKean, Ray Romano, Jason Alexander, Hank Azaria, and Shannon Elizabeth. Real life Pro players Doyle Brunson, Phil Hellmuth, and Phil Laak also make appearances, as well as filmmakers Brett Ratner and Werner Herzog.
As you can see, this is a huge ensemble, and director Zak Penn handles it impeccably. Every performance shines, and the pace is fast and fun. I think I laughed three times as much in this film than in any feature all year. The humor is always there, be it in the witty dialogue, the great ensemble, or the various clever scenarios.
As stated before, the film is structured similarly to a Chris Guest mocumentary, alternating between testimonials of the characters, and following the players around as they play in the tournament. The tournament itself is presented similarity to a telecast of "The World Series of Poker", complete with mismatched commentators.
I'm not the biggest fan of Penn's superhero stuff, but I thought he did something clever with his Herzog Loch Ness project. Here, he hits a real sweet spot, creating a real love letter to fans of poker and smart comedy alike.
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