Woody Harrelson stars as One-Eyed Jack Faro, a not-quite-fully-rehabbed gambler, party monster, and serial marry-er hoping to save his late grandfather's hotel-casino by winning $10 million cash at The Grand Championship O... more »f Poker. But first he'll have to beat a Vegas field of geeks, gurus, online amateurs, greedy developers, ruthless housewives, old-school pros and more of the top players in the world for the largest prize in poker history. Jason Alexander, Ray Romano, Mike Epps, Judy Greer, Werner Herzog, Gabe Kaplan, Michael McKean, Phil Gordon and Doyle Brunson co-star in this no-limit comedy from director Zak Penn (Incident At Loch Ness).« less
"When Zak Penn is not writing movies about the X-Men, the Incredible Hulk and Captain America, he does some quirky little indie movies.
And the follow-up to "Incident at Loch Ness" is a far steadier animal -- a sort of mockumentary about a professional poker competition, and the wide range of weirdos connected to it. It starts off rather slowly, but Penn quickly hits his stride -- the resulting movie has all of Vegas' flashy glitz, and the quirk factor of a long-lost Christopher Guest mockumentary.
Jack Faro (Woody Harrelson) inherited the Lucky Rabbit's Foot casino from his grandfather, but the casino has fallen on hard times -- primarily because Jack is addicted to everything he can snort, inject or drink, and he's been married seventy-four times. As the movie opens, he's been living in rehab for two years straight.
Now a casino mogul (a gloriously cutthroat Michael McKean) is going to raze the Rabbit's Foot unless Jack can produce the money. His only hope is to win The Grand, a professional poker competition against some of the greatest poker players in the world -- including frustrated housewife, her obnoxious brother, a vitriol-tongued savant, a cutthroat veteran, a psychopathic German and a teacher from the Frostbite Amputation Capital of the World.
So despite sponsoring the Grand, Faro joins it. But to save the Rabbit's Foot, he's not only going to have to survive the first rounds -- he'll have to use luck and skill to deal with the most cutthroat and/or talented poker players in the world. Tensions rise as the players work towards the final round -- but who will win ten million dollars?
When one of the characters intently tells the camera that he recites the Mentat oath "before I drink my brain juice," you know that Penn has hit comedic gold. The first ten minutes of "The Grand" are rather tedious, since Penn is only introducing the idea of the Grand and Faro's situation. But once he starts introducing the characters and bringing them together, the mockumentary really gets moving.
It follows the basic mockumentary formula -- a camera follows the characters around, and they talk seriously about bizarre things. Animal murder, Star Trek, pyromania ("I got this blowtorch as a wedding present..."), addictions and winning the competition ("I want to see the others crushed and disappear and crumble," the German says with the calm of a true psychopath). Even the poker commentators get in on the weirdness ("And it's easy, with the patented Mike Werbe flash cards!").
And along the way, the characters do some pretty weird stuff too, such as Jack hitting on a pretty new employee only to find that she's one of his countless ex-wives. Since the characters spend a great deal of time sitting down, Penn has to compensate with lots of amusing dialogue ("... also, you have corn in your teeth") and he's good at making things just slightly too surreal.
Despite all the quirk, it would be easy for "The Grand" to lapse into tedium because it's basically about people playing a card game, albeit for high stakes. But Penn's hilariously mocking writing ("Where are you from, your country? Is everyone as miserable as you?") and quickly shifting visions of the Strip and casinos keep things interesting. Lots of light, flash and sparkle.
Harrelson does a nice solid job as a much-married Vegas heir, who seems to be perpetually stoned and laid-back even when being ejected from his own casino. But you can see a little desperation in the scene with Michael McKean, who is utterly hilarious as the evil, weird Steve Lavisch (he wears a hard hat when he looks at his construction models).
And the other actors are also great -- Cheryl Hines is excellent as a wife who supports her family because of her hubby's fantasy football obsession, while Dennis Farina is deliciously nasty, Chris Parnell is unspeakably rude and weird ("Your bet on the river was as transparent as a cloaked Romulan bird of prey!"), and David Cross is bombastically horrific as Hines' "identical twin" brother.
And Werner Herzog deserves a special shout-out for playing The German. Yes, that is the character's name. The great director does a wonderful, straight-faced job as a clearly insane poker-player who likes to kill small animals, and at one point informs Melvin, "I will SQUISH you." He's awesome.
"The Grand" happily lampoons the wonderful world of pro poker, and it entertains a great deal along the way. Definitely one to check out, if the works of Christopher Guest have also been in the cards."
Occasionally funny, mostly pathetic
S. D. Johnson | La Sierra, CA, USA | 07/08/2008
(2 out of 5 stars)
"This film had its moments of humor, but they were few and far between, and likely as not to be found in one of the deleted scenes or character profiles. In fact, some of the funniest bits are with the real-world poker stars who make cameo appearances in the film.
The story centers on a $10 million poker tournament called The Grand (hence the name of the movie). The film was made on location in the old section of Las Vegas, in and around the Golden Nugget. Woody Harrelson is the main character in the movie and the only one in the tournament who is trying to win for semi-altruistic reasons. A heavy drug and alcohol abuser, who has lived in a rehab center for several years, he wants to buy back the casino he inherited from his dead uncle and then lost through various combinations of substance abuse and stupid decisions.
Of all the main characters, Woody Harrelson is perhaps the most likable, with Dennis Farina taking a close second place. Richard Kind's character is funny at first, but he quickly gets annoying and you find yourself glad when he makes his exit. The rest of the crew is a combination of mean and/or pathetic in different amounts.
The film is somewhat educational in that, if you know nothing about poker, you'll learn a few terms and some of the techniques employed by professional players. It is also good in that it doesn't really glamorize gambling, as the players are generally pathetic losers, each with their own crippling idiosyncrasies and lack of social skills. Harrelson's substance abuse is likewise portrayed in a pathetic light - he only manages to pass out in his hotel room after his "bender".
There are some small attempts at promoting familial reconciliation, but the people involved are so pathetic and mean spirited that it is more of a disappointment than heartwarming.
If someone is really into poker and/or thinks that cut-downs and insults are the height of humor, they would probably really enjoy this movie. If someone is a huge Woody Harrelson fan, or a fan of one of the other stars in the movie, they would likewise probably enjoy this movie. At Amazon's current price of $10, you can probably take a chance and see if it is for you, but you're likely to find this one for $5 or less in a bargain bin somewhere within a couple of months."
Mediocre at best, again
John N. Schear | Roanoke, Virginia United States | 07/03/2008
(2 out of 5 stars)
"It comes close to being a waste of resources. A lot of plastic was used unnecessarily to do this movie. Slow and boring are a bit understated but I know of no words that sound worse or more informative. The acting was stiff and almost unnatural. It is a shame that some folks are going to think that this is the way to play polka. Perhaps this is the way to dance the polka but certainly not the way to play it. This was a movie that you did not push the pause button. You simply went to the fridge to get your icecream and come back when you were ready but hoping that the movie would be over and low and behold - it was not."
Although Likely Of Only Modest Interest To Many Viewers, Ver
rsoonsa | Lake Isabella, California | 07/06/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
""The Grand Championship of Poker", held at the Golden Nugget Hotel in Las Vegas, furnishes the backdrop for this cleverly constructed mockumentary that will please aficionados of the card game, although viewers not conversant with the rules of poker will understandably be more interested in the personalities involved, thanks to the able leadership of director Zak Penn, who provides his cast with only a briefly outlined scenario from which to work. This, then, is primarily an improvisational work, with the actors representing actual well-known poker tournament contestants, all the while not themselves knowing the film's outcome, since they are engaged in ongoing competition with highly proficient professionals, contending for a winner-take-all prize of $10 million. Resourceful editing is the determinant to success for an episodic affair of this sort, and that duty is capably handled by Abby Schwarzwalder, being of particular value during the production's earlier segments, when a wide range of defined character types is created by director Penn. The film loses much of its impact during its lattermost sequences as a result of poker jargon being extensively utilized, and probably not comprehensible to a good many viewers. The Anchor Bay DVD release enjoys outstanding audio and visual quality and offers a liberal number of interesting extra features. These include: a brace of alternate endings; some truly comedic deleted scenes that have optional commentary by Penn, writer/executive producer Matt Bierman, and actor Michael Karnow; "Wild Cards" - a goodly amount of footage that profiles major players along with some cameo roles; a full-length audio commentary with Penn, Bierman and Karnow, marked by the director's efforts to keep the other two focussed upon the film; and a substantial group of selected scene commentaries with Penn and Woody Harrelson, in addition to one with the director and players Cheryl Hines and Ray Romano. From among a large collection of talented performers we may enjoy some excellent turns, acting honours going to Chris Parnell as a social misfit who is also a genius at poker. These extras, taken together, will comprise the principal reason for a majority of those who are not fans of poker playing to acquire this work, their entertainment value offsetting any constraints caused by a self-destructing effect fashioned from the game's usage of poker nomenclature, a failing that will leave many viewers adrift."
Not quite Best in Show, but then what is?
K. B. Fenner | Columbia, SC USA | 07/02/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Okay, so Christopher Guest only makes a movie every three or four years, and For Your Consideration was not up to snuff: The Grand is in the fine mockumentary tradition started by the funniest film ever (AFI rating) "This Is Spinal Tap." The Grand is in the same vein as Best In Show, following disparate wacky characters in a contest, interspersed with interviews. It does not feel improvised, like the best Guest films and TIST--more scripted like The Office. It's not laugh-out-loud funny, but it is very amusing--no gross-out bathroom jokes, not cheap-shot sophomoric humor; instead, well-crafted (appropriately exaggerated) characterizations. Druggie Woody Harrelson has been living in a rehab facility for the past two years b/c it was easier than constantly readmitting him. Michael McKean (David St. Hubbins in TIST) plays a Donald Trump type real estate mogul trying to buy out Woody's Las Vegas casino, the site of the Grand poker tournament (winner-take-all prize $100 MM). Various competitors include filmmaker Werner Herzog as The German, a rodent-killing sociopath, Dennis Farina as a Rat Pack style Old School Vegas guy, David Cross as the loser acting-out brother of Cheryl Hines, a Poker Mom. The Announcers are poor imitations of Fred Willard's Best in Show tour de force, but there are several clever products mentioned that are worth replaying to read all the stuff written on the boxes. Bottom line: if you like the Guest films, The Office, and This is Spinal Tap, give this a try."