Zak Penn beats Christopher Guest to the World Poker Tour (and even brings Michael McKean along for the ride). Though there's more than just interviews building up this improvised mockumentary, The Grand still feels a little slapdash and thrown together, but it is funny. At the end of the day, when you put Richard Kind, Chris Parnell, David Cross, Cheryl Hines, and Woody Harrelson together, you're going to get some funny scenes. Throw in some subplots about a self-obsessed and ignorant announcer (Michael Karnow), an odd duck who likes to take it up the beanstalk (Ray Romano, who's really just trying to say that he wants a large coffee), and a crazy German (Werner Herzog), and you've damn near got the equivalent of reality film.
Sometimes the cameos don't go anywhere (like Hank Azaria), are funny but out of place (Jason Alexander), or just plain take up space (Dennis Farina), but on the whole, the film's got at least a straight set of laughs. The one downfall is that it lacks the sense of authenticity of other mockumentaries: the big hands aren't planned very well, and aside from Harrelson's nickname of "One Eyed" Jack Faro or Parnell's "brain juice" recitations, there isn't much action at the table. There are already enough personalities on the WPT; it hardly seems necessary to make fun of them. The Grand coasts through on star power, but it's at the same time lackluster, and doesn't quite do for poker what Kingpin accomplished for bowling.
A schlocky combination of both Alien and Predator, it's somewhat fitting that the ill-directed action scenes are harder to make out in the endless darkness than Aliens vs. Predator. Fun as those coincidences may be, Matthew Leutwyler's direction is outdone only by his even less revealing script, the kind of plodding monstrosities that allows for animal scientists in the middle of nowhere to proudly proclaim that they have equipment, on-hand, that will let them extract uranium. It's a shame: Anasazi myths are creepy, and the monster cooked up by TyRuben Ellingson is pretty gruesome (for the few frames we can make it out). But the film's relies far too much on gory flashcuts and dead bodies to scare us, and not enough on atmosphere or actual horror.
The only person who makes sense in Unearthed is Charlie Murphy, who takes on the much-needed role of Mr. Obvious, stating what everyone in the audience already thinks about the stupidity witnessed on screen. Unfortunately, as the token black guy, we know he won't be around long enough to keep us entertained; the problem is that there are enough people left alive to keep the filmmakers entertained as they play with the "splatter" button. There's just no need to unearth this film from anywhere but the cutting-room floor: having a cool monster doesn't make you any cooler.
Saturday, April 28, 2007