Loopy cast, manic pace make for a winning hand.
"The Grand," a mockumentary in the style of "This Is Spinal Tap" and "Waiting for Guffman," revolves around a Las Vegas poker tournament, but no knowledge of the game is required to enjoy the show. The card-flipping is simply the pretext for assembling one of the looniest comic ensembles in years and turning them loose to improvise.
Director Zak Penn, best known as the screenwriter of several Marvel superhero movies, brings headlong energy and solid filmmaking chops to this round-robin, giving a half-dozen main players and scores of background characters hilarious moments in the spotlight.
The central character is One Eyed Jack Faro (Woody Harrelson), a wastrel who inherited his grandfather's casino and lost it to nefarious but dimwitted real estate developer Steve Lavisch (Michael McKean). Competing against him in a $10 million game that will determine the fate of the betting parlor are Deuce Fairbanks (Dennis Farina), a Rat Pack-era high roller who misses the old days of kneecappings; Harold Melvin (Chris Parnell), a Rain Man brainiac; formidable Lainie Schwartzman (Cheryl Hines), and her ultracompetitive brother Larry (David Cross, sublimely irritating).
Rounding out the competition are clueless Andy Andrews (Richard Kind), who won a seat at the table in an online poker game and has never played against humans, and a fierce-eyed Teutonic menace known only as the German (Werner Herzog, whose casting is a fine joke in itself). Then there is the next ring of friends and associates, including Lainie's doofus husband (Ray Romano), who insists that his Fantasy Football league is every bit as important as her lucrative career, Harold's much-abused mother (Estelle Harris) and several of One Eyed Jack's 70-plus wives.
Penn keeps the film's focus well in hand, never allowing the story's energy to dissipate. The film is not much more than a gusher of oddball character sketches and ricocheting gags, but its manic pace and over-the-top inventiveness make "The Grand" a solid bet.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186