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Wednesday, December 6, 2023


Film Review: Poker movie a ‘Grand’ flop

The only thing ironic about Zak Penn’s comedy about losing is that it is, in fact, a loser.

The Grand introduces a huge set of outlandish characters through their absurd backgrounds shot mockumentary-style, and pits them against each other in a high-stakes poker tournament where they duke it out with their outrageous antics.

However, this improvised comedy could have made better use of its large, A-list cast with more plot focus and perhaps a little direction.

It has too many characters. More than half the movie is spent introducing one-dimensional, quirky poker players and setting up their farcical backgrounds. The Grand delivers a constant barrage of these absurd histories that would work perfectly as MADtv skits, not as an hour of feature film. The film flashes from one improvised skit to the next, apparently geared toward the attention deficit and never building any real plot or character depth. Most of these skits fall flat, occasionally worthy of a smirk, but usually elicit a raise of the eyebrow.

The plot revolves around a poker tournament in Las Vegas with a winner-takes-all jackpot of $10 million. The main characters are six poker pros competing for a prize along with numerous, and mostly unnecessary, side characters.

Woody Harrelson plays One-eyed Jack Faro, a sex and drug addicted moron with two talents: persuading women to join him at the altar for a Vegas wedding and poker. He recently lost his inheritance, a multi-million dollar Vegas hotel and casino, and the only way to get it back is for him to win the prize.

Harold Melvin (Chris Parnell), an anti-social, autistic card shark, was perhaps the most entertaining, along with Deuce (Dennis Farina), an old-school Vegas high roller with a sadistic streak and nostalgia for the old mafia-run Las Vegas.

Ray Romano as Fred March, the stay-at-home dad with a penchant for fantasy football, and David Cross as Larry Schwatzman, the overcompensating less-talented twin, come off tedious. Larry’s more successful twin sister played by Cheryl Hines is equally bland. Also worth mentioning is The German (Werner Herzog), an evil character who steals The Grand’s few laughs by his over-serious demeanor. Inseparable from his fluffy white rabbit, he claims to kill something everyday because it makes him feel more alive.

When the actual poker showdown between the six pros finally arrives, viewers are waiting for the movie to end. The final table match plays out like an ESPN-aired poker tournament save for an imbecilic announcer and a lot of trash talking.

Surprisingly, by the end most of the six finalists have taken on a relatively polite disposition toward one another and as players are eliminated many leave graciously making for an incredibly dull stretch to the finish. The final competition is predictable and features few twists.

The professional world of poker offers a lot to be poked fun at, but The Grand misses most of the humor by crowding in ridiculous one-dimensional characters trying too hard to be funny.

Verdict: Too many ridiculous characters to be funny

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