Did Zak Penn’s The Grand, an improvisational comedy set in the world of poker, cast itself? Woody Harrelson, Cheryl Hines, Chris Parnell, Ray Romano, Dennis Farina, Michael McKean, among others, appear as if expected (the only one missing from the roll call is David Cross—no, wait, there he is!), and befitting similar such comic experiments, it’s a largely hit-and-miss affair. Even when the jokes fall to the floor like errant darts, they never feel desperate or embarrassing: In a throwaway scene, Brett Ratner appears as a poker player sporting a yarmulke, but Penn understands that his friend has less aptitude as an actor than he has as a filmmaker, and so he cannily writes the super-hack’s bad performance as bad bluffing. The ostensibly unrehearsed card-playing scenes are as dull as the litany of on-screen transitional graphics, but the behind-the-scenes glimpses of the characters’ private lives are often funny, and as the six gambling-circuit types sparring for the titular prize at the Lucky Rabbits Foot Casino in Las Vegas, the actors more or less play to their strengths. To his doting mother (Estelle Harris), the hyper-sensitive germ freak played by Parnell says, “If I were a food critic, I would give your cooking five stars—five stars that have each collapsed into a black hole and merged to form the largest black hole in the universe.” That line alone earns The Grand two notches on our four-star scale, and the ghetto-fab entrance by Werner Herzog guarantees the film a passing grade. “Most people drink coffee, but I think it is some sort of beverage of the cowards,” says Herzog’s The German, a vicious, globe-trotting animal killer and card shark who considers geese “troublesome animals” and correctly thumbs his nose at Vegas for its lack of irony. In front or behind the camera, regardless of whose film it is, Herzog is still The Man, and when his character starts cussing up a storm in untranslated German, Parnell’s Harold responds, the only way he can, with a series of high-pitched squeals—an improvisational moment of grace, straight from the gut, that evokes not only the terror and desperation of the character but the audience’s as well.
- Anchor Bay Entertainment
- 104 min
- Zak Penn
- Zak Penn, Matt Bierman
- Woody Harrelson, Cheryl Hines, Chris Parnell, Ray Romano, Dennis Farina, David Cross, Michael McKean, Richard Kind, Judy Greer, Estelle Harris, Andrea Savage, Shannon Elizabeth, Mike Epps, Werner Herzog
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: