EmptyTribeca Film Festival
NEW YORK -- For his second directorial effort, screenwriter Zak Penn ("X-Men: The Last Stand") uses an improvisational approach similar to his feature debut, "Incident at Loch Ness," with much more successful results. This ensemble comedy about a group of eccentric players competing in a multimillion-dollar poker match will inevitably be compared to the works of Christopher Guest, but what "The Grand" lacks in originality it more than makes up for with its high percentage of funny moments.
Penn, who co-wrote the script with Matt Bierman, has assembled a top-notch cast of comedic performers who seem to be having one hell of a time. Their enjoyment is infectious, and while some of the gags invariably go on for too long, for the most part the film is crisply paced and consistently uproarious.
The central character is "One Eyed" Jack Faro (Woody Harrelson), who's lost the casino his grandfather left him because of his various addictions, not the least of which is to marriage. In order to gain it back from an addled real estate developer (Michael McKean), he enters a poker competition called "The Grand," the prize being $10 million.
To win, he must compete against a gallery of bizarre players, including Larry Schwartzman (David Cross), whose distraction techniques include wearing a burka; his sister, Lainie (Cheryl Hines), a profane Long Island housewife; LBJ "Deuce" Fairbanks (Dennis Farina), who longs for the good old days of breaking legs; Andy Andrews (Richard Kind), who garnered his spot at the table after winning an online game; Harold Melvin (Chris Parnell), a semi-autistic who lives with his elderly mother; "The German" (Werner Herzog), who needs to kill at least one animal a day; and others.
Also on hand are such characters as Lainie's husband (Ray Romano), a "lightning survivor"; her father (sitcom star Gabe Kaplan, now a real-life player); and other competitors played in cameos by such figures as Hank Azaria, Jason Alexander and director Brett Ratner, among many others.
Penn and Bierman have clearly allowed their performers to let loose, with mostly hilarious results. Their attempt to provide some emotional depth to the proceedings, with a subplot involving the dysfunctional Schwartzman family dynamics, is less successful, though it does little harm.
Eleven Eleven Films, Insomnia Media Group
Director: Zak Penn
Screenwriters: Zak Penn, Matt Bierman
Producers: Bret Saxon, Jeff Bowler, Zak Penn, Gary Marcus, Bobby Schwartz, Ross M. Dinerstein
Executive producers: Ari Palitz, Matt Bierman
Co-producer: Lance Stockton
Director of photography: Anthony Hardwick
Production designer: Shepherd Frankel
Music: Stephen Endelman
Costume designer: Valerie Laven-Cooper
Editor: Abby Schwarzwalder
"One-Eyed" Jack Faro: Woody Harrelson
Larry Schwartzman: David Cross
LBJ "Deuce" Fairbanks: Dennis Farina
Lainie Schwartzman: Cheryl Hines
Andy Andrews: Richard Kind
Harold Melvin: Chris Parnell
The German: Werner Herzog
Dr. Yakov Achmed: Jason Alexander
Fred Marsh: Ray Romano
Reggie Marshall: Mike Epps
Running time -- 95 minutes
No MPAA rating