As the convergence of two cooling trends—poker and the comic mock-doc—this largely improvised comedy set at a Texas hold 'em championship is itself somewhat the victim of a bum deal. Even so, it's played all in: Director/co-writer Zak Penn (Incident at Loch Ness) has a lot of affection for his screwy characters, and he has a cast worth watching even when the plot's held captive by unexciting card play. Continuing his own recent streak of superior work, Woody Harrelson plays the drug-casualty owner of a failing Vegas casino, who pins his hopes on the tournament's winner-take-all $10 million pot. Standing between him and the loot are an expert ensemble at the top of their game—everyone from Cheryl Hines and David Cross as rival siblings to filmmaker Werner Herzog as a brass-knuckled, bunny-stroking nut known as "the German." Studded with guest stars (Ray Romano, Mike Epps, Hank Azaria), real-life poker champs (Doyle Brunson, Phil Laak, Celebrity Poker Showdown co-host Phil Gordon), and lots of quotable lines, The Grand forms a diverting time capsule of the early-century poker bubble—that moment when the game was dragged out of the back rooms into prime time, its daylight-challenged top guns became mainstream celebrities, and the Net raked fish into the nets of five-card predators.
Harrelson having a Grand time.
Opens at Varsity, Fri., April 4. Rated R. 104 minutes.