A scene from 'jackpot'
Courtesy Photo
**1/2 stars 100 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Friday, August 17, 2001
Directed by Michael Polish

Starring Jon Gries, Daryl Hannah, Garrett Morris, Peggy Lipton, Crystal Bernard, Camellia Clouse, Anthony Edwards, Rick Overton, Mac Davis, Adam Baldwin, Mark Polish


Not a wildly cinematic film, so it should translate well to the small screen - although it might not hold your attention.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 12.18.2001


Watch the trailer!

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Simple story of a failed musician still striving for the big-time gets bogged down in artsy-fartsy filmmaking

By Rob Blackwelder

Sunny Holiday is a karaoke singer with delusions of grandeur. It's not that he's a bad singer or lacks stage presence -- heck, cue up a catchy country tune in a roadside bar and Sunny can get folks to dancing with his sad-sack twangy stylings.

But Sunny (Jon Gries) keeps telling himself it's only a matter of time before he's "discovered" in one of these dives and swept into a showbiz fantasy world. It's to that end that Sunny -- an unemployed absentee father who sleeps in a 20-year-old pink Chrysler and drives all over the Southwest seeking karaoke contents -- has hired a manager.

Lester (Garrett Morris) sleeps in the car too. He's followed Sunny to 43 cities, offering fatigued, musty words of encouragement in dingy men's rooms and insisting that his only client is building a fan base on this "tour." Meanwhile, they're paying for gas with jars of pennies, and Sunny's only contact with his wife and baby daughter are the quick-pick lotto tickets he sends home once a week, likening them to child support.

A nebulously whimsical character study about a man who doesn't realize his dreams were dashed long ago, "Jackpot" is the sophomore outing of Michael and Mark Polish, the writing-directing brothers behind 1999's provoking, eccentric and affecting "Twin Falls, Idaho."

Director Michael Polish serves up the same kind of artsy-fartsy moodiness found in his first film, but it's an ill fit for this story, making "Jackpot" feel conspicuously self-important and distracting from the very strong performances by Gries, Morris and Daryl Hannah as Sunny's wronged wife. The cast also includes Peggy Lipton and Crystal Bernard as bar tramps who take Sunny home to spend the night. (The latter has a Lolita-like teenage daughter who also throws herself at our downhearted cowboy balladeer.)

Occasionally the brothers' unbound inventiveness serves the picture well. The fast-forward and rewind buttons on Sunny's cheap car stereo are cleverly employed to illustrate jumps back and forth in the narrative timeline. Also, some karaoke scenes are deliberately but discreetly shot like music videos -- with theatrical camera moves, audience reactions shots and chop-chop editing -- as a way of letting the audience in on how Sunny would like to see himself as a star.

But then there's unnecessary metaphorical expenditures, like the intermittent and immoderately ponderous voice-over -- spoken by an apparently unrelated, off-screen voice that has no discernable connection to the plot or to the rather uncomplicated minds of the characters. It's the kind of cinematic technique that generally appeals only to snooty art film connoisseurs, even when its use is appropriate.

Quite simply, the movie suffers from the same problem as Sunny himself: The Polish brothers see "Jackpot" as something more consequential and profound than what it really is -- a simple story about a sympathetic-because-he's-pathetic sub-average Joe coming bitterly to terms with where he fits in the world.

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