Tuesday, 3 September 2013

No.122 : The Grand


The Grand at the IMDb

An ensemble cast try to do for poker what Christopher Guest did for dog shows and amateur dramatics in ‘Best in Show’ and ‘Waiting for Guffman’. The results are pretty uneven but if you like poker there will be enough here to keep you interested. Needless to say if you don’t like poker, get your jollies elsewhere.

The film uses the familiar documentary format as we follow six poker players who are preparing for the titular tournament which is worth $10 million, winner take all. The main character is played by Woody Harrelson. He’s spent the last three years in rehab and has had 70 wives - and that’s just his own. He’s motivated to win the tournament as he owes $6 million to Michael McKean’s property developer character and if he loses his family casino, ‘The Rabbit’s Foot’, will be bulldozed.

We also get ‘The German’ played by Werner Herzog who is as mean as his name suggests and he  kills an animal a day to get himself in the mood. Next up is Andy, played by Larry David’s idiot cousin off ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ who plays a hapless internet qualifier who is enjoying a freak streak of luck - or could he be bluffing?

Fourth at the table is Phil off ‘The Sopranos’ who represents the old school of leg breaking poker players, fifth, a semi autistic pro who has George Costanza’s mother in tow and lastly siblings David Cross and Cheryl Hines who are a bit of a dick and is married to Ray Romano respectively.

The film is held together by two sports anchors who run through profiles of each of the characters by way of giving us an introduction to each. We also follow their preparations and hear them rant before the tournament gets under way. The early rounds of the tournament are a bit of a waste of time as we are already certain as to who the last six players will be. This does give the opportunity to show some real life poker players such as Brunson, Helmuth and Negrano acting badly for a bit of screen time.

As the final table is seated we wonder which of our favourites will win through and what will happen afterwards as those predictable captions over the credits round off a very by the numbers offering.

I quite liked this film despite its obvious shortcomings and lack of ambition. Much of the script was improvised and that was apparent given the small number of laughs. The characters were caricatures of your usual poker stereotypes and it was hard to engage with any of them, even Woody who was set up to be our favourite.

The tried device of having dueling sports anchors hold the piece together was a waste, especially as it has been done so much better in films like ‘Dodgeball’ and ‘Best in Show’. The idea that one was constantly trying to pitch his own merchandise got old very quickly and the other lacked any personality.

The usually reliable David Cross was forgettable as the ‘Bad Boy of Poker’ although I did smile at his rubbish website address acquired after all the good ones had been taken. Hines and Romano didn’t play well together and it wasn’t clear why she was with the nerd with a fixation for fantasy football.

It was fun to see fleeting glimpses of Jason Alexander and Michael McKean among others but there were so many talking heads vying for attention that it just seemed like a scatter gun approach with nothing sticking to the screen or to our memories for any length of time.

The final table showdown, which was seemingly played for real, offered nothing but an anti-climax and you have to wonder if a tight script and some dramatic tension couldn’t have helped this film to a full house rather than the 7-2 off suit that it delivered.

THE Tag Line -  Busted Flush! 57%

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