The Grand is sharp-witted and snappy--a hybrid of scripted and improvisational comedy which works on many levels.
Much like Christopher Guest comedies (Best in Show, A Mighty Wind), The Grand's loose style, set up by writer/director Zak Penn, allows the actors to have free rein onscreen. Jack Faro (Woody Harrelson) is our hero, a ladies' man with an eye patch and long drug history. Faro owns the aging downtown Las Vegas casino, The Rabbit's Foot, and is struggling to keep it afloat, hunted by a nefarious hotel developer, Steve Lavisch (Michael McKean). He enters the Grand Championship of Poker as a way to raise money and become one of a cast of lively poker players. His competitors include a brother-and-sister team (David Cross and Cheryl Hines) from a dysfunctional family, a Star Wars nerd/numbers expert (Chris Parnell) and an eccentric gangster known as The German (Werner Herzog). Each person is a pile of quirks and self-effacing irony. The final six-way poker showdown is an entertaining battle of comedy wits.
Hammy performances prevail, but all almost all are universally funny in different ways. Harrelson is at his coolest--a coltish youngster-turned-failure. Hines' Lainie Schwartzman is a sharp-edged recreation of the poker pro Annie Duke, bearing on her shoulders the weight of her father's (Gabe Kaplan) uneven pressure. Both she and David Cross, who plays her brother Larry, have improv experience and are quick on their feet. The Grand's most hilarious performance, however, is from iconic director Herzog (Rescue Dawn), who plays The German. His deadpan delivery and droopy eyes are spot-on to this caricature of a globe-trotting gamesman, who boasts of winning water in a desert from a yak bone. Saturday Night Live's Parnell plays the neurotic, vitamin-drinking nerd Harold Melvin well. Ray Romano and Jason Alexander round out supporting roles to mixed results: Romano stands out a little more as a stay-at-home Mr. Mom to Lainie Schwartman's high-earner status, while Alexander plays it a little over the top as Dr. Yalov Achmed. The performances may be the film's weakest links, but they are entertaining nonetheless.
Zak Penn is mostly known as a screenwriter, striking gold at age 23 with Last Action Hero. He set about making a niche as a major-studio flick specialist, writing movies like Inspector Gadget, Behind Enemy Lines and X-Men: The Last Stand. The Grand is Penn's second directorial effort, after the faux-documentary Incident at Loch Ness with his star Herzog. Both movies reflect a polar opposite in approach to Penn's regimented, paint-by-numbers day job writing big-budget movies. Penn brings a polished touch to independent film. The shiny graphics and poker-playing segments would make even the Farrelly Brothers envious. The Grand is shot like one of the many popular poker TV shows, complete with graphics and play-by-play to help make the quick-moving poker action easier to understand. They are a little uneven in their execution sometimes--but then again, this movie is supposed to be outrageous.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 stars.