Jackpot

on July 27, 2001 by Jordan Reed
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   High praise goes to the casting of Michael and Mark Polish ("Twin Falls, Idaho's") latest film, "Jackpot." Although the movie itself leaves little impression, co-stars Jon Gries ("Men In Black") and Garrett Morris ("Pistol Blues") prove a refreshing road-buddy pair. Morris makes an ideal Lester, a tired, lowbrow sage struggling to channel the music career of Sunny (Gries) into a shot at stardom by first building a fan base stemming from backwoods karaoke competitions. Sunny, a determined but foolish crooner hell-bent on making it to the big time--even at the expense of his wife (Daryl Hannah) and child--seems just as eager to blow any real (or imagined) chance at success. The two sad sacks limp their way through redneck towns, bickering and fraternizing like a trailer-trash reduction of genuine showbiz codependence. It's obvious they need one another, but it's just as apparent that their reliance emanates from desperation and their goals are destined to remain unmet.

   "Jackpot's" premise revels all too obviously in its built-in absurdity, the comical mood of the karaoke performances a constant reminder of how endearingly pathetic such heartfelt posturing is as an outlet for artistic expression or a stepping stone to legitimate music-industry success. Sunny's prima donna stances--he insists on a clear path to the stage, for example--are amusing but standard indications of his delusion, hinting at a lack of ingenuity on the part of the filmmakers. His bratty tantrums feel formulaic, and the occasional romantic interludes become a necessity: something else has to happen, or else we're just watching two guys fight because one has to sing Billy Idol.

   Additional appealing casting decisions abound, perhaps the most inspiring being Allen Fawcett in a tiny role as a karaoke jockey. Few will remember Fawcett as the interminably cheerful host of an '80s lip-synch show called "Puttin' on the Hits," which featured embarrassing contestants mouthing their favorite singers in hopes of winning a cash prize. After each performance, Fawcett put on his own fake rendition of excitement, blurting out scores with a manic enthusiasm bordering on the psychotic: "For originality...A PERFECT SCORE OF 30!!!!" It's great to see him in such a fittingly nostalgic part. But when a karaoke film's blast-from-the-past cameo stands out as its most memorable aspect, the problems shriek that much louder.    Starring Jon Gries, Garrett Morris and Daryl Hannah. Directed by Michael Polish. Written and produced by Mark Polish and Michael Polish. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Comedy/drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 96 min.

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