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Reviewed July 29th, 2002 by David Nusair


Jackpot, written by Michael and Mark Polish (and directed by the latter), must have been made around the same time as Duets, because both films detail road trips and karaoke. And really, why would anyone make a movie about karaoke if another one had already been released? Itís unfortunate timing, but overlooking that, Jackpot isnít nearly as entertaining as Duets was.

But the similar subject matter isnít the reason I disliked Jackpot. Unlike Duets, which followed six characters as they karaoked across the country, Jackpot follows two people (a singer and his manager) as they head for Jackpot, Nevada Ė the site of a big karaoke contest. Not a whole lot happens on the way; the two talk a lot about a variety of things, and every once in a while, theyíll hit a local karaoke bar. The singer, named Sunny Holiday and played by Jon Gries, goes through an arc thatís quite similar to Paul Giamattiís character in Duets. Heís left his dead-end job and hit the road in the hopes of making it big as a singer. How he hooked up with a manager, played by Garrett Morris, is never really explained.

Thereís no denying that Mark Polish has a flair for style, as many shots in Jackpot are intriguing on a purely visceral level. Specifically, thereís one sequence set inside a garishly decorated bar with Christmas-esque lights completely covering the walls and ceiling. Creative set design like that and the inventive direction that supports it make Jackpot worth a look if only for some bizarre and unusual locales. But thatís just not enough to keep the movieís plotless screenplay afloat.

Polish plays around with time through the editing of the movie, and short clips that we see near the beginning of the film wind up appearing at the end. This trick doesnít really add anything to the movie, and instead just seems sort of show-offy. What the film does have going for it, though, are some fantastic performances. Gries, in particular, is a standout. A veteran of dozens of movies, Gries is the sort of actor that looks really familiar but youíd never know his name. Sunny is a low-key type of guy; heís left his family to chase after a pipe dream. Gries gives a performance that, in a bigger movie, would be considered a breakthrough but since hardly anyone saw (or will see) Jackpot, itís doubtful his subtle and quiet acting job will be recognized by anyone other than critics. SNL alum Morris is also surprisingly good, playing Sunnyís no-nonsense manager. There are a few cameos, including a particularly pointless appearance by ERís Anthony Edwards, but this movie belongs to Gries and Morris.

Jackpotís leaden pace pretty much guarantees itíll never be accepted en masse. But it does seem like the sort of film thatíll eventually garner a cult audience of some kind, since there are surely folks out there whoíll relate to Sunny. The Polish brothers are clearly talented, so as soon as they find an interesting story worth telling, Iím sure itíll be something special.

Audio: Jackpot is presented with a DD 5.1 soundtrack, but never quite becomes anything more than a solid presentation of dialogue. The surrounds occasionally come sort of alive with the singing sequences, but otherwise, this is strictly a front-end affair.

Video: This 2.35:1 anamorphically enhanced transfer is impressive. The bright sequences mentioned in the review look particularly good here, with no bleeding. The image is free of artifacting, and looks great.

Extras: The only substantial extra is a commentary track with the Polish brothers. Though there are some gaps in which neither says anything, this is otherwise a very informative track. It was surprising to learn, for instance, that the film was made in just over two weeks for around $400 thousand. Rounding out the disc are some trailers (oddly enough, no trailer for Jackpot is included) and filmographies.

Conclusion: Jackpot is a small film about a guy with big dreams. It may be worth a look for those interested in the karaoke scene.


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