The Grand
Director: Zak Penn(Incident at Loch Ness)
Writer: Zak Penn, Matt Bierman
Producers: Jeff Bowler, Ross M. Dinerstein, Gary Marcus, Zak Penn, Bret Saxon, Bobby Schwartz
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Cheryl Hines, David Cross, Dennis Farina, Werner Herzog, Richard Kind, Chris Parnell, Michael McKean, Gabe Kaplan, Ray Romano
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 104 min
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reviewed by Andrew James
      Mockumentaries have always been a source of great times and good laughs in this household. From the original: This is Spinal Tap, to the more recent films of Werner Herzog and Christopher Guest. With this second effort from writer/director Zak Penn, we're treated to more of the same.

      It's the national poker championship in Las Vegas, NV and players from all over the country fly in to participate. Among them are six of the zaniest and quirkiest people you're ever likely to meet. Along for the ride are various family members, friends and business associates; each with a quirk to themselves. Filmed as though it were a real documentary, The Grand spends time with each of the players and their various financial difficulties and/or social ineptitudes. This is all wound together by a simple plot involving the hotel/casino itself where the tournament is being held and its hazy future. All of this culminates when the contestants all finally meet each other at the same table for the final round of the tournament.

      The only real problem I can find with this movie (so we can get it out of the way) is that I kept comparing it to Christopher Guest's "mockumentary," Best in Show (especially with Michael McKean continually popping up). Now this might not seem like a bad thing, but as good as this movie is, it's not as good as Guest's effort. I kept reminding myself of this fact throughout the screening and it was very distracting. But that's probably just me and a personal quirk that would be overlooked by others. Still, the comparison is undeniable.

      This isn't a laugh-a-minute riot, but there's enough here to keep the chuckles coming. What I found interesting is that the laughs came at different times from different people. Rarely did the audience all roar with laughter at the same time. The laughs were sporadic and came from various parts of the theater throughout. This isn't a bad thing as there's a touch of humor in here that seems to quench everyone's unique tastes.

      There are quite a number of cameo appearances that pop up from time to time as well. An inexplicable Shannon Elizabeth cameo as a bartender, Jason Alexander, Hank Azaria provides some fun commentary at one point and even Zak Penn himself makes an appearance.

      While the script is funny and well written, it's the cast that makes this one come alive. Most of these actors have experience with improv (SNL, Curb Your Enthusisam, Second City, etc) and it shows here. Apparently the final showdown for all the bucks is totally unscripted and even the cards that are dealt are genuine. In this way, the game plays off as though it were a real game and the actors can react naturally to their cards and peers.

      Along with the intimacy of the card game itself, the movie at times switches gears and gives the audience the feeling that they're watching the tournament from home on ESPN or the equivalent; complete with on-screen graphics and commentators (who themselves are quite hilarious). This is just one more example of how the movie is a nice companion piece to Best in Show.

      So while not laugh out loud funny for 90 straight minutes, I can just about guarantee a good time. I know for a fact the crowd I was with really enjoyed themselves and everyone was in a better mood because of it. There're some quality quotable one-liners in here and is probably worth a rewatch at some point in the near future. For anyone with interest in the game of poker, a fan of any of these main characters, a fan of "mockumentaries" or just someone who likes to laugh, there isn't a much better comedy on the year that has a better hand than The Grand.

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