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REVIEW

Poker takes its turn in mockumentary

An ensemble of actors plays a plodding game of improvisation in 'The Grand.'

March 21, 2008|Jan Stuart | Newsday

Why don't mockumentaries ever go after targets worth the mocking? In lieu of pointed send-ups of our feckless political leaders, we get easy caricatures of such don't-make-waves subjects as dog shows, regional theater, folk music and now -- don't everyone cheer at once -- poker game championships. Writers Zak Penn and Matt Bierman brainstormed the idea and characters for this ESPN-style coverage of a Las Vegas poker playoff, prelude and aftermath, then turned it over to a game ensemble to improvise.

The contestants include Woody Harrelson as the drug-battered scion of a failed hotel family, Cheryl Hines as a Massapequa mom riding a millionaire winning streak, David Cross as her loser brother, Chris Parnell as a semi-catatonic mama's boy and Werner Herzog, riffing hilariously on his own flair for the theatrical pronouncement as the German.

Abetted by Ray Romano, Michael McKean and Gabe Kaplan, they come up with about 20 minutes of priceless material -- not a bad percentage for this sort of enterprise. But "The Grand" lacks any sort of urgency or inner propulsion; the actors do their little goofs, then hand them off to the next, lending the jest the frolicking but ultimately monotonous quality of a game of tag.

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"The Grand." MPAA rating: R for language and some drug content. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes. In limited release.

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