THE GRAND Directed by Zak Penn. 93 minutes. Opens Friday (March 21). Rating: NN
A Mighty Wind works. Best In Show works. Waiting For Guffman works. They’re all improvisational comedies with ensemble casts. So why is Zak Penn’s improvised poker satire such a boring bust?
Simple. It’s the subject matter. Dog shows – ridiculous. Earnest folksingers – hilarious. Community theatre – alas, often laughable. Poker? Not so funny.
I say that as a TV sports hound, someone who’ll watch almost anything – short of darts – and who’s seen her share of Texas Hold ’Em on late-night and weekend television.
In this story of players vying for $10 million at a televised championship, Penn and co-writer Matt Bierman offer up a series of archetypes: the stoner casino owner, the one woman who gets to the final, the old-school hard-ass, the lucky know-nothing amateur (Richard Kind, in the movie’s best performance), the sadistic German (Werner Herzog).
But very little of it – even the battling TV show hosts – is amusing, and the last half-hour, which is yuk-free, plays out almost exactly the way the action would at any final table on TV, except without the element of chance. Somebody actually wrote this thing.
You may say Christopher Guest is just a better director than Penn. I’m not sure, but he’s definitely better at choosing his targets.