Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Grand

I've been excited about The Grand for a while now. It had a limited release back on March 21 and it just hit Boston this past Friday at The Kendall. When you have a movie that's directed by Zak Penn (Incident At Loch Ness) who tells his cast including Ray Romano, Werner Herzog, David Cross, Dennis Farina, Richard Kind, Woody Harrelson, Michael McKean, and numerous others to improvise, it has to be good. The script was supposedly only 29 pages long and the rest was up to the cast. While this movie is obviously an absurd comedy, it's also a poker movie. So as funny as it was, to get the full enjoyment, it helps to at least be interested in the topic at hand.

The Grand is structured like a documentary, with various one-on-one interviews with the players. Everybody gets a little bit of backstory so we can see where they're coming from, with the exception of Woody "One Eyed Jack" Harrelson. Instead of just giving us his history, which includes him inheriting his grandfather's Lucky Rabbit's Foot Casino, it furthers the story by showing how he's run it into the ground and is in jeopardy of losing it to Billionaire Steve Lavisch, played by McKean. Lavisch wants to bulldoze the Rabbit's Foot and build his own casino, consisting of two enormous buildings, but only one room total between the two of them (no, you didn't read that wrong). So while all of the characters have their own background, One Eyed Jack is the only one with a foreseeable future. We only know what Jack plans to do with the $10 million prize if he wins The Grand tournament. As for the other players? We have no idea.

That's one of the rare problems I had with The Grand. I thought if they were going to do a little bit to create a plot, it should have involved more characters. Only giving us info about one character seemed weak. They should have either left it alone or given us more.

The other drawback, which I hinted at earlier, was that you need to be into poker to enjoy some of The Grand. I have no such interests. The Grand is definitely a comedy movie with a little bit of poker in it but there was a big tournament called The Grand that obviously needed to be shown. The final scene of the movie was supposed to be a climactic game between all of the greatest poker players vying for the $10 million prize. The problem was it was seriously lacking in any laughs. Being less than enthused by poker made this scene drag. So sadly, The Grand kind of ended on a low note.

Although just because it ends in a boring way, doesn't mean the rest of the movie was dull. In fact, The Grand was just the opposite. There were parts where I was in tears it was so funny. Even amongst all of the fantastic improv, there was one standout act. That would be Werner "The German" Herzog. The two best scenes in the movie are his entrance and his exit. The epic Handel-esque song when The German comes into the hotel is fantastic. The lyrics, you just need to hear to them. They're amazing. And when he's about to leave, he can't find his bunny, Munchkin. He won't leave without him and he's pacing through the hallway saying, "Muchkin, Munchkin, Munchkin. Where are you, Munchkin? I've lost my bunny. Have you seen my Munchkin?" It's hilarious. I love Herzog and the movie is worthwhile even if just for his role.

So while it really helps to have some passion for poker playing, especially watching it being played, The Grand is still a successful movie. It's fantastic seeing what all of these great actors come up with. And at the very least, I guarantee you'll be laughing watching The German being interviewed with Munchkin in his lap.


Craig Kennedy said...

Though the outcome of the tournament is kind of pointless, I think it really does help to at least be familiar with professional poker to really enjoy The Grand. People with zero interest probably won't get as much out of it, although it can still be pretty funny.

Daniel G. said...

Hmm, I'm still on the fence here. You've convinced me to see it but I have to judge it compared with the others that are out and the time I have. If nothing else I'm sure it will be on TV one day. I actually am I poker fan (not big player, but I used to play), but I was just going to leave Rounders as the be all end all on poker. We'll see how this one carries.