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Awesome: 33.33%
Worth A Look61.9%
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Pretty Crappy: 4.76%
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3 reviews, 3 user ratings

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Grand, The
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by Jay Seaver

"A full house of funny characters."
4 stars

Like the Marvel superheroes in the movies for which he writes screenplays, Zak Penn lives a double life. Sure, by day he's churning out nondescript comic book adaptations, but by night he directs mock documentaries with Werner Herzog - and they're far more entertaining than the likes of his "X-Men" scripts would have you expect.

The Grand focuses on a Las Vegas poker tournament with a ten million dollar winner-take-all pot. Though it takes place in the Golden Palace, it was started by the founder of The Rabbit's Foot, whose embattled owner Jack Faro (Woody Harrelson) needs the money to cover a bridge loan or risk losing his grandpappy's casino. He starts the movie in rehab for every kind of addiction available - drugs, alcohol, tobacco, marriage (he's been married approximately 72 times). He's got some stiff competition at the tournament, though: Twins Larry (David Cross) and Lainie (Cheryl Hines) Schwartzman hail from Long Island, New York, and have been competing from a very early age, when their father (Gabe Kaplan) would pit them against each other but only encourage Lainie in order to motivate Larry. Lainie brings her family along with her, three kids and husband Fred Marsh (Ray Romano), who has been more than a bit peculiar ever since surviving a lightning strike. He doesn't quite compared to Harold Melvin (Chris Parnell) In the strange department, though; Melvin still lives with his mother (Estelle Harris) in his late twenties or early thirties, although his obsessive nature (to the point of being Asperger's) gives him a leg up calculating odds at the table. We also meet "Deuce" Fairbanks (Dennis Farina), who is basically Dennis Farina, an old rat-packer who misses the days when Vegas was committed to his trashiness; not enough legs get broken these days. Then there's The German (Werner Herzog), who is basically Werner Herzog on an especially crazy day, and Andy Andrews (Richard Kind), a rube from Wisconsin who won his seat playing poker online.

Those are just the main characters, of course; the likes of Jason Alexander, Judy Greer, Michael McKean, Hank Azaria, and others show up for quick bits as other players or supporting cast. The script for this movie is said to be only thirty or forty pages long, which means that there was not only plenty of room for improvisation, but most of the good jokes likely had to come from there. Some of these actors are playing fairly familiar personae - Dennis Farina, Richard Kind, and David Cross are playing exactly the characters one might expect, for instance, but that just means they know just what these people will do without thinking.

The less-obvious characters are just as funny, though. Werner Herzog arguably belongs in the "familiar" category - the photographs of Herzog used to tell us of The German's strange exploits are likely unretouched - but The German is so deadpan bizarre that even Herzog's reputation for eccentricity isn't enough. Consider that during the sit-down interview segments, he's patting his pet rabbit like he's Ernst Stavro Blofeld, and it still feels like a tease for something even stranger. Then there's Parnell's Harold, who eschews the usual basement-dwelling nerd stereotypes in favor of an obsession with David Lynch's adaptation of Dune, which is just far enough off the beaten path to be humorously strange to non-fans but to give those who are just familiar with the franchise a laugh when he recites the Mentat's Mantra or says Lainie has the hairstyle of an Arrakinean prostitute. Which, of course, leads to a joke about the announcer who immediately claims experience with Arrakinean prostitutes.

Penn does a nice job herding all these strange characters; there was likely a lot of good stuff to edit. In style, it's much closer to Christopher Guest mockumentaries like A Mighty Wind and Best in Show than his previous entry in the genre: Incident at Loch Ness, aside from having Werner Herzog play the sanest person in the cast, was played with a completely straight face and a fairly linear story. There's story to The Grand, but the majority of it is jokes packed into a loose structure.

Most of them are good jokes, although every viewer will likely have a list of things they'd like more of and less of (I would trade a bunch of Ray Romano for more Werner Herzog). I'm sure aficionados could find flaws with the poker, as well, but you don't have to be a Mentat to calculate that the bits that work add up to much more than the bits that don't.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16196&reviewer=371
originally posted: 04/14/08 19:16:47
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2007 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/27/09 damalc not nearly as good as "Best in Show" 2 stars
12/11/08 Lee great scrip, simmilar to 40 year old virgin style comedy but without romance 5 stars
5/27/08 porfle Not as good as the Guest mockumentaries, but fun. 4 stars
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  DVD: 10-Jun-2008



[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Zak Penn

Written by
  Matt Bierman
  Zak Penn

  Woody Harrelson
  Ray Romano
  Cheryl Hines
  Jason Alexander
  David Cross
  Judy Greer

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