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IN SHORT: Strictly arthouse. [Rated R for language and sexuality. 96 minutes]
Oh joy, another movie in which the gray collar class go for the gold, singing karaoke in run down bars, followed by hours in the car searching for the next easy score. It's always a quest for the nonexistent pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
The first film by brothers Mark and Michael Polish, Twin Falls Idaho, hung its story upon an extraordinary visual idea, using conjoined ("Siamese") twins as the lead characters. It was a very well made movie and their sophomore effort, Jackpot, is not all that different on a technical level. What is different is that they don't have the visual gimmick to keep us interested every step of the way, choosing instead to deliver a classic slice of life story which will enthrall anyone who prefers their movies served up at the local arthouse. As we've noted in many other reviews, slice of life movies allow their actors to strut their individual stuff and, if there's enough stuff, then we may be able to maintain interest. Jackpot, instead, fills its cast of small town losers and wannabees with a host of teevee has-beens and supporting cast members. Symbolically it's a brilliant decision. One which will be greatly appreciated over cappuccino afterwards, if you're into that film student analysis thing. We're not.
And we really tried to make it through Jackpot. What's left of the film student inside was working his hardest but, save for a last minute appearance by e.r.'s Anthony Edwards, by the time the final scene was ready to unleash its final confrontation, we was gone to join Little Nemo in Slumberland. Jackpot bored us into a brief, and totally fitful, sleep. First time in six and a half years that that has happened. The movie was not badly cast. The acting was not badly executed. Real life, as it is with most of us, is usually boring. Keeping it absolutely real kept it absolutely dull. With one exception.
Sunny Holiday (Jon Gries) has walked out on his wife Bobbi (Daryl Hannah) and their baby, signed with manager Les Irving (Garrett Morris) and loaded up their pink Chrysler for a nine month, forty-three city tour of karaoke joints in the great heartland. Starting point is Sunny's homebase in Jackpot Nevada. His ultimate destination is Los Angeles and everything in between, as Les reminds him, is called paying dues. Sunny would rather hit the jackpot -- his child support payments (when he makes them) consists mainly of one dollar scratch to win lottery tickets.
When we meet this pair, the Grand Tour seems to be generating results. Chicago newspaper journalist Mel James (Adam Baldwin) is doing a story on Sunny's success, which Les describes as "earning thousands!" In reality, if they're lucky to win any of the open mic competitions they hit -- and there is a regular circuit of clubs and competitors (including singer Mac Davis as Sammy Bones) -- to keep things interesting. Les scopes out the competition, gets his man last in the performing order and orders up the grand finale song. A killer finale, usually a good George Jones song, occasionally means up to a grand in their pockets.
Every win nets fifteen percent. Simply put: Life sucks. Then it gets worse.
If Sunny doesn't take home the cash, there's always some drunk, lonely thing waiting for company: a waitress named Janice (Peggy Lipton) who owns her own trailer; a blonde babe named Cheryl (Crystal Bernard), who believes in passing out in the men's room to see what comes to pick her up (not to mention Cheryl's daughter Tangerine (Camellia Clouse) who is underaged and most likely overexperienced). Life on the road is rough. When karaoke doesn't pay, selling gallon jugs of a super-soap mixture (it gets stains out of anything) puts gas in the tank and cheese on the burger.
Pushing our story to its inevitable conclusion is the spurned wife, who manages to get her man busted. Brother Roland (Rick Overton) tries to calm the storm between the pair. Other brother Tracy (Anthony Edwards) has already decided how to spend Sunny's great fortune. And, as you can see coming a couple of days away, Sunny and Les finally go head to head. So to speak.
Which brings us back to the exceptional bit, which is the performance of Garrett Morris, who is been saddled with roles on one badly written sitcom after another. Morris has finally got a great part and does great work.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Jackpot, he would have paid . . .
Our average flick, wait for pay per view, level. If you prefer the arthouse to slam bang popcorn joints, you're going to think we're out of our mind.
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