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Down-and-out singer is consumed by a dream in 'Jackpot'

Friday, October 05, 2001

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

"Jackpot," now at the Melwood Screening Room in Oakland, explores the degree to which following your dreams requires not just a large degree of self-delusion but also the capacity for self-negation -- taking on another name, another look, another guise, trying to make yourself forget you're a loser in the lottery of life.


RATING: R for language and sexuality.

STARRING: Jon Gries, Garrett Morris, Daryl Hannah.

DIRECTOR: Michael Polish.

WEB SITE: www.sonyclassics.



Sunny Holiday (Jon Gries) left his wife (Daryl Hannah) and baby daughter to seek fame as a country singer. He and his manager, Les (Garrett Morris), drive in a pink Chrysler from town to town to compete for prize money in karaoke contests. Les says this builds a fan base while Sunny pays his dues.

You get the feeling Les actually believes this. Sunny has his doubts, but he is consumed by the dream. He and Les sleep in the car. He sends lottery tickets to his wife as child support. Occasionally, he has sex with some of the women he encounters. They're as anxious to live a fantasy as he is.

Sunny wants to head straight for Los Angeles, but Les knows the reality of Tinseltown would destroy Sunny's dream. Instead, they set their sights on Jackpot, a town in Nevada located 100 miles south of Twin Falls, Idaho -- which just happens to be the title of the previous film by the creators of "Jackpot," identical twins Michael (he directed) and Mark Polish (they both wrote the screenplay).

The filmmakers liken the symbolism of a jackpot to the payoff from a slot machine, calling it "wealth without effort." But Sunny and Les get it backward -- they achieve effort without wealth. One of their sidelines is to sell bottles of liquid soap called EZ Solution that supposedly can clean up any mess. Life, alas, isn't that EZ.

Sunny and Les think of Jackpot as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But another definition of jackpot is trouble, a jam, a tight spot. That's the kind these guys keep hitting.

By film's end, we see the lengths to which Sunny has gone to assume a new identity, the disco cowboy mouthing someone else's lyrics to a pre-recorded soundtrack. The movie employs flash-forward jump cuts that hint at Sunny's fate. Meanwhile, Sunny keeps rewinding a George Jones cassette as the movie spools to another leg in his journey.

"Jackpot" is enriched by the distinctive style of the Polish brothers, who have their characters drift through these dusty towns in a kind of reverie. But the episodic structure, slow-paced and repetitive, takes its toll. A series of cameos by the likes of Peggy Lipton, Anthony Edwards, Adam Baldwin and Mac Davis are too brief to be anything but tantalizing.

The movie all but stops during a scene in which Sunny goes home with a fan (Crystal Bernard) who has bumped her head and finds himself tempted by the woman's underage teen daughter. That's a bit too jackpot, thank you.

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