- The Washington Times - Friday, August 31, 2001

"Jackpot" proves a washout while trying to justify humorous curiosity about the foibles and misadventures of an itinerant show-business figure, an aspiring country singer who calls himself Sunny Holiday. His actual name, Glenn Alan Johnson, is revealed as part of the systematic deflation of Sunny's prospects that occurs as the movie tracks him in time-hopping episodes, frequently cued by symbolic transitional images: a tape being inserted into a machine and the forward and reverse buttons being engaged.

The second feature from the fraternal team of Michael and Mark Polish, who made an eerie first impression in the independent tear-jerker "Twin Falls Idaho" by playing Siamese twins, "Jackpot" also alludes to a destination that is never reached: a town in Nevada where Sunny hopes to snag serious prize money after prepping at karaoke clubs in small-stakes burgs.

Sunny, portrayed by a vaguely familiar but far from commanding character actor named Jon Gries, fancies himself a new George Jones. It's difficult to believe that either his vocals or his gangly, balding presence would take him very far as a troubadour.

Recurrent flashbacks of an argument with his embittered spouse, Bobbi (Daryl Hannah), reveal Sunny as a deadbeat breadwinner and blithely negligent dad. In fact, the little girl recruited to play their daughter probably is the most appealing presence in the movie, and she's obviously out of the fictional loop.

"Jackpot" is easier to tolerate, in fits and starts, as a cult movie for Garrett Morris, who has the better leading role as Sunny's loyal manager and road companion, Lester Irving, the custodian of amusing nuggets of show-business lore and platitude.

Mr. Gries and Mr. Morris spend a lot of time in car and bathroom. Before doing his karaoke gigs, Sunny takes refuge in the can, where Lester prepares him for the moment of truth with pep talks and prayers. Presumably, Lester is nursing a serious inferiority complex of his own, or he wouldn't stick with Sunny. It's possible that the material would be better suited to a claustrophobic theatrical setting, a two-character play confined to automobile and restroom.

That still would beg the question of an adequately charismatic Sunny, the most conspicuous weak spot of the movie.

Mr. Gries' unprepossessing credentials as a galoot, especially an amorous galoot, make you want to avert your gaze from episodes meant to be roguish, such as an inexplicable conquest of Peggy Lipton as a complacent club manager (for one thing she looks far too healthy for the likes of Sunny) and a lewd digression that threatens Sunny with molestation by an ignorant teen-ager called Tangerine (Camillia Clouse).

In a completely rational world, the Sunny type might have been an entertaining possibility for Jack Nicholson about 30 years ago or Robert Duvall about 15 years ago.

One gets the impression that the Polishes are not unfamiliar with either "Five Easy Pieces" or "Tender Mercies," but they haven't contrived a comic or sentimental structure that can prevent Sunny from collapsing in a heap of shabby failure that defies edifying aspects.

The supporting cast turns up several trusting souls: Miss Lipton, Miss Hannah, Mac Davis as a karaoke rival and Anthony Edwards as the squirrelly manager of a motel, a bit that comes out of nowhere and may be gratuitous homage to Dennis Weaver as the supremely nerdy "night man" in Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil."

The Polishes could use touches of several kinds, from the merely adequate to the authoritative.


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