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Poker Movie Review: The Grand

Poker Movie Review: "The Grand"
by Daniel Johnson of Predictem.com

"The Grand" (2008) features an exceptional, well known and very strong ensemble cast including the likes of Ray Romano, David Cross, former SNL cast member Chris Parnell, Cheryl Hines and many others. There are many funny people in this comedy and while it has laugh-out-loud moments, it fails to deliver any semblance of a meaningful story or even a funny one.

The Grand tells the simple story of Jack Faro, played by Woody Harrelson, and his quest to save his casino, The Rabbit's Foot, from being bought out by a Las Vegas tycoon and developer, Steve Lavisch (Michael McKean), who intends to blow up The Rabbit's Foot and build a ridiculously expensive one-room casino. Faro is the black sheep of the family and the probably the worst selection to be the heir of his grandfather's old-style downtown Las Vegas landmark. He spent two years in rehab, has been married 75 times and at one time even got thrown out of his own casino…by himself. But Faro is determined to get The Rabbit's Foot back into ownership of the family and his only way to do it, of course, is to win the $10 million first place prize at the Grand Championship of Poker, which is made to look and feel like the World Series of Poker.

The film is shot in a mockumentary style and appears to be in the vein of Christopher Guest's films such as "This is Spinal Tap" and "Best in Show". The film's humor is in its satirical look at the world of professional poker and the characters that make up the poker culture. The characters really are the best part of the film, even though they are very one-dimensional and stereotypical of the various types of players seen in big ESPN poker events.

Although the characters are very flat, they do get some laughs. The biggest problem is that there are so many of them. The film focuses on six main characters, all of whom on vying for the $10 million winner-take-all purse. The film takes so much time providing back stories for each of the final table players and also a few of its side characters that by the time everyone is introduced, the film is more than half over and the plot hasn't really moved an inch.

The film's only real strength, however, is in providing some laughs with these characters. Each one is made to resemble a famous poker player. First there's the brother and sister rivals (much like Howard Lederer and Annie Duke) who both are star players in the world of poker and have had success at previous Grand Championships. This duo is played by Cheryl Hines and David Cross. Cross' character also embodies a bit of Phil Hellmuth as he is known to berate players and at one point in the film throws an entire deck of cards one-by-one in a opposing player's face. Ray Romano plays the husband of Hines' character and has some funny moments in a limited role. He is the stay-at-home dad of his poker player wife and spends most of his time (and the movie) playing fantasy football while his wife is out on the casino floor playing for millions of dollars. Gabe Kaplan also makes an appearance as father of the two siblings.

Then there's the nerdy, eccentric and overly mathematical character played by Chris Parnell. Parnell does a good job with the role, speaking in a monotone, almost robotic voice, talking about pot odds and fending off his embarrassing mother who watches him play. Dennis Farina and famous German film director, Werner Herzog, round out the ensemble as the old-time gambler (Doyle Brunson type) and the villainous foreigner aptly named "The German".

The poker play that is shown throughout the film is also often rudimentary and not particularly exiting in terms of what most poker fans are used to. The makers of the film and the cast themselves are obviously poker fans, but the poker that comes across on screen would lead you to believe that they didn't know much about texas holdem strategy. In some of the hands players call all ins with Ace high and overbet the pot with hands like top set. The film gets a little poker credibility though with cameos from Phil Gordon, Phil Hellmuth, Doyle Brunson and Daniel Negreanu.

"The Grand" isn't a complete waste of time as it does have funny moments and some good one-liners, but they can't make up for the almost complete absence of story and plot. The movie fails to build any real tension or excitement, so that at the conclusion most of the audience probably won't care who wins and who loses the $10 million. The film ending up looking like an excuse for poker playing celebrities to make a movie about one of their favorite hobbies, albeit a slightly amusing one at that.

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