[image-4]Published June 19, 2008.
Improvised comedy The Grand features Werner Herzog playing an angry German poker player and TV's Mr. Kotter (Gabe Kaplan) in his first acting role since a 1984 Murder, She Wrote episode.Those are just two of the ringers onboard for director Zak Penn's charming little poker flick. The sprawling cast also includes David Cross, a strangely sexy Woody Harrelson and improv legend Michael McKean. The film's plot is loosely framed around a yearly big-stakes poker tournament (the titular "Grand") and irresponsible poker ace Jack's (Harrelson) attempts to save the casino that he inherited from his grandpa. But, much like the best Christopher Guest joints, the movie's really more of a showcase for its cast's acting chops and bizarre, inspired creativity. The card playing in the film is also apparently real---which means that Penn and cowriter Matt Bierman didn't know how The Grandwas going to end when they started shooting. But it doesn't show. Characters have believable, touching arcs and do hilarious, weird-ass things. Unveiling a series of failed casino ideas, Jack shows off "Hector's Frozen Cart," a casino shaped like a blue blob. "I don't know what I was thinking when I came up with this particular design," he admits. Me neither. But I like it.