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By Don R. Lewis | March 23, 2008

The world of high stakes pro poker gets the mockumentary treatment in “The Grand,” the new film by Zak Penn. With a dizzying array of actors, storylines, poker games and general insanity, it gets kind of hard to keep up with the film. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing as there’s much to look and laugh at onscreen.

“The Grand” sort of focuses on “One Eyed” Jack Faro (Harrelson), an addictive personality who sort of stumbles into owning the “Lucky Rabbits Foot Casino” when his grandfather dies and signs it over to him. Never one to pass up an opportunity to royally screw things up, Jack promptly runs the casino into the ground before admitting himself to a rehab center where he stays for two years. He’s brought out in order to sign the casino deed over to mega-bazillionaire Steve Lavisch (McKean) who wants to make a very special hotel right where Faro’s casino stands. Out of money yet holding on to what’s his, Faro enters a high stakes poker tournament with a ten million dollar grand prize. Just enough to get things back on track.

From there we meet the other players in the game and it’s basically a cavalcade of comedy stars including Dennis Farina, Jason Alexander, Cheryl Hines, David Cross, Gabe Kaplan, Chris Parnel, Werner Herzog and Richard Kind. Quite a cast. Add to that, each actor is improvising their lines and working off an outline they’ve embellished and you get so much information thrown at you, it can be hard to keep up. I kept asking myself…is it possible a movie can be too funny? That’s not gushing praise, in fact it’s kind of the weak point of the film. “The Grand” starts off in fourth gear and doesn’t stop until the final poker showdown which is as intense as any you’ll see on TV. Why? Because director Penn wrote the outline with an open ending because the players were really playing. It’s a cool idea and a nice twist to put on an already well improvised film.

While you automatically would think Faro would win it all and save his casino, that may or may not happen (I ain’t telling you who wins) because the final table is really being played. What’s even cooler about that is all the players are playing the game in character and by the time we’re in the final showdown, the audience has a pretty good handle on what each player is like. I found myself rooting for some and hoping others would lose. If you understand poker even a little bit, you’ll get a kick out of the final sequence.

“The Grand” is a fast and furious comedic attack that begs to be seen again. There’s just so much going on, it’s nearly impossible to keep up. I also thought each and every actor was great. They became fully engrossed in their characters and the story lines all click together nicely. For a film clearly shot in a short period of time, to wrangle all these actors and their talents into a funny, cohesive film must have been no small feat. Penn succeeds across the board.

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