This poker mockumentary from Zak Penn is funny and excellent addition to this sub-genre of films that there needs to be more of.
Woody Harrelson is the closet to a lead as “One Eyed” Jack Faro in this ensemble piece about a poker tournament, “The Grand”, with a few million dollars at stake that will let Faro save his family’s casino which he wrote away the deeds to during his drunken/drugged/and sex riddled time of his life. Faro is on the tail end of another rehab stint as he comes back to Vegas to compete against 6 likely competitors.
Larry and Lanie Schwartzman are a pair of siblings that are consistent winners in the pro circuit and have had a dueling sibling rivalry for as long as they have lived. Larry is the prankster and loud mouth of the circuit searching for his father’s approval, while Lanie dominates her husband and marriage to Fred Marsh (Ray Romano). The German (Werner Herzog) is a sadistic animal killer that has zero compassion on or off the table to anyone or anything. Harold Melvin (Chris Parnell) is a “special” competitor that knows every odd on the table and has little to no ability socially or for self preservation. Andy Andrews (Richard Kind) is the “Amateur” that plays with caution to the wind with little to no knowledge of the game. Lastly is “Deuce”(Dennis Farina) the old school card player from the old school days of Vegas that busts the balls of anyone that gets in his way.
Most of these characters come together at the eventual final table, obviously, but what is cool about the final scene is that there is no script, they play the game as the cards fall and whoever wins, wins, and the films result is at the hands of the players.
As for the players, all of the actors do a great job at creating unique and individual personalities for all of these guys and they are all at least a bit funny, with some standing out more than others. The standouts I will start with David Cross who berates players as he plays and spouts off some fantastic slams and bouts of harassment that are a joy to watch. Woody Harrelson also does a very good job as the laid back Faro and sells his story well as he has the most fleshed out back story by far. The real stand out though is Parnell who comes out of nowhere and steals every scene he is in, prepared to be blown away by his brilliant comic performance.
The film also has a smattering of cameos and bit roles for a number of recognizable actors with Ray Romano and Jason Alexander standing out among the crowd. Alexander is great as the mystery ethnic character that gets angry at the table and will go toe to toe with any member on the circuit. Romano plays the awkward and dim husband to a T and makes the most of his moderate screen time and plays perfectly off of Cheryl Hines.
In the end, Zak Penn has made a worthy addition to the mockumentary genre that is just about on par with Christopher Guest’s works and should be seeked out by anyone that is a fan of the genre because this one is a winner.