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The Grand

Year: 2007
Production Co: Insomnia Media Group
Director: Zak Penn
Producer: Zak Penn
Writer: Zak Penn/Matt Bierman
Cast: Woody Harrelson, David Cross, Dennis Farina, Werner Herzog, Judy Greer, Cheryl Hines, Roy Romano, Gabe Kaplan, Michael McKean, Jason Alexander, Hank Azaria, Tommy Tiny Lister, Brett Ratner

The mockumentary genre allows for so much as the comedy can have the richness and engagement of a fictional story and contain all the exposition you need through direct contact with the characters via interviews or voiceovers. The Grand is one of the better examples I've seen in a long time, with a healthy sense of the ridiculous and a real-world approach.

The Incredible Hulk writer/director Zak Penn has a healthy sense of the subtlety that lifts it out of the comedy quagmire and the laughs are both obtuse — like Jack Faro's (Harrelson) dozens of wives and the monumentally stupid industrialist Lavisch (McKean) — and cutting, like the nurse at Faro's rehab who asks the camera crew for privacy to 'talk' to him in private before his release.

Faro is taking part in a globe-trotting poker tournament with huge prize money that will get him out trouble, letting him hold onto the casino passed down to him from his gangster father. He's just one of the cast of misfit poker stars who are as funny to describe as the rest of the movie. Farina is Deuce, an old school Vegas type who screams profanities from his shopper scooter and pines for the simpler days when you could just break a guy's kneecaps.

Cross is Larry Schwartzman, so bretahtakingly obnoxious he's convinced that when he loses a hand it's because everyone else has played incorrectly. His twin sister Lainie is also in the tournament, and there are some serious father issues going on with their Dad. There's also Herzog is the formidable The German, a soft spoken, evil-eyed player who has to kill something once a day.

If the players aren't enough, even the newscasters calling the game are a scream, one plugging his ridiculous book series so shamelessly the other one ends up cutting how down to size with the film's funniest line ('maybe it's because you're a fucking idiot').

We're introduced to the characters through interview and live action and the game's underway. With no clear heroes or villains it's never obvious who's going to win, but it's hardly worth watching to back anyone in particular. Instead you'll love the depths of self delusion, ill-fated luck and false confidence that plagues these grotesqueries.

Yet somehow Penn manages to make them all human enough to love. As a film it seems to be a comment on the stupidity in all our natures, creating people who have it to astonishing degrees and setting everybody up to try to deal with them and keep their simmering resentments about them in check — just watch Lanie when asked about her doofish husband Fred's (Romano) hobby.

It sags a little towards the end but the laughs are worth waiting for even when they slow down.

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