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With: Jon Gries, Daryl Hannah, Garrett Morris, Adam Baldwin, Peggy Lipton, Anthony Edwards
Written by: Michael Polish, Mark Polish
Directed by: Michael Polish
MPAA Rating: R for language and sexuality
Running Time: 97
Date: 07/27/2001

Jackpot (2001)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Juke Box Hero

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I never knew about the whole subculture of competitive Karaoke singing,at least until last year's Huey Lewis film Duets tried to do somethingwith it and failed. But it seems to be such a great, sleazy, desperateworld of people longing for fame and striving for it throughreinterpreting someone else's work.

Now comes the new film Jackpot which works far better than Duets ever did. It's the second film from Michael and Mark Polish, the identical twin brothers who debuted in 1999 with the audacious Twin Falls Idaho. Jackpot actually refers to a town that's a stone's throw from Twin Falls, Idaho, and indeed the lost and sorry characters from both films seem to be inhabiting the same stretch of nowheresville.

Jon Gries stars as the would-be George Jones with the unlikely moniker of Sunny Holiday. The nearly-forgotten original Not Ready for Prime Time Player Garrett Morris turns in a superb performance as his manager Lester. They both seem to have a lot to say about the progression of Sunny's career, but neither of them seem to be actually progressing anywhere. Lester pulls their heads together for quick prayers before each performance, and sports a wealth of musical knowledge. When he needs a song that's "slow but not too slow," he pulls out Billy Idol's "Eyes Without a Face," and recites the song's date and rank on the Billboard chart.

After that performance, Sunny accompanies a star-struck groupie home and there discovers her nymphet daughter, who invites him into her room and bestows upon him a "blow job" by blowing on his navel. Embarrassed, Sunny mutters, "that's OK," and cradles the child's head in his chest. It's a hugely disturbing, but somehow lovely, scene and it's bound to be the film's centerpiece of discussion for months to come.

We learn through quick flashbacks -- nothing more than snapshots really -- that Sunny left a stable job and a wife (Daryl Hannah) and daughter to pursue his fruitless dream. After a night of passion with a lovely barmaid (during which Sunny... er... performs badly), he attempts to sell his date a bottle of cleaning fluid. His patter is so practiced and professional and enthusiastic, we know that this must be his "real" calling. Toward the film's end, Sunny meets up with his brother (Anthony Edwards, stunningly out of character) who runs a motel, and the whole story finally gels.

Strangely, Jackpot boasts quite a happy marriage of style and substance -- at least more comfortable than Sunny's marriage of love. Most movies become heavy in one direction or the other. But Gries and Morris are so good and so low that we latch onto them and their hopeless philosophies, while the Polish brothers feel comfortable enough leaving them there to go off and dazzle us with some amazing cutting or cinematography (by M. David Mullen).

It's been a while that a movie has created a world so vividly and yet remained so conscious of its own existence. Perhaps it's the twin brother dynamic at work, one complimenting another. (Brother teams like the Coens, the Wachowskis and the Farrellys seem to be doing good work everywhere.) In any case, the Polishes have shattered their sophomore slump and delivered an even better film than their first. I look forward to more.

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