The Grand

(2008) ** 1/2 Unrated
105 min. Anchor Bay Entertainment. Director: Zak Penn. Cast: Werner Herzog, Richard Kind, Woody Harrelson, Ray Liotta, Ray Romano.
An improvisational poker-championship comedy in the vein of Christopher Guest's Best in Show sounds like a better idea than it is, but screenwriter Zak Penn (the X-Men films) does solid work in his sophomore directing effort. He's abetted by a delightfully funky all-star cast in the roles of the motley competitors and their families: Woody Harrelson, David Cross, Dennis Farina, Cheryl Hines, Ray Romano, Chris Parnell, Gabe Kaplan, and Werner Herzog, among others. The jokes are hit and miss, and the dramatic gestures lack conviction, but the steady amusement and the inherent appeal of the stars are enough for a recommendation, especially for poker enthusiasts. A bonus: according to Penn, the final table was played for real, meaning genuine suspense rather than a foregone writerly conclusion.
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