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WINDING ROAD MOVIE

"Jackpot" is an odd little film. It's a road story, buddy flick and slice of American life that, unfortunately, leaves you feeling unfulfilled.

It's the type of character-driven film you feel guilty about not loving even though it's the filmmakers fault that you don't. These characters, as sympathetic as they are, don't display any moral fiber or character, making them, and the film, unappealing.

"Jackpot" is the second installment in Michael and Mark Polish's trilogy that began with "Twin Falls Idaho" and will conclude with "Northfork" next year. It's one of the countless stories of a journey on the long, unkind road to fame.

Sunny Holiday ("Twin Falls" alumnus Jon Gries) has an overactive libido, but also a dull personality and balding everyman looks that never live up to his character's name. He's left his wife and daughter in search of musical fame in the karaoke clubs of middle America, taking to the road to nowhere with his buddy/manager, Lester (Garrett Morris).

Sunny believes he's the next George Jones -- and he is to those in the karaoke clubs where he sings Jones' "Grand Tour." On nights where the song has already been spoken for, Lester engages in "switching" of the song for another the way kids trade Pokemon cards.

Along this barren, downbeat road, the duo meets an array of even more depressing characters. The emphasis is on women here (Sunny can't get enough), but it's not in a good way. From the wonderful Peggy Lipton to the not-as-interesting Crystal Bernard and Daryl Hannah, they are all portrayed as, shall we kindly say, "loose" women who are only too eager to please a man they just met. (They utter such obvious, degrading things as, "I would have taken you for an over easy guy," when Sunny orders eggs.)

Though the film focuses on Sunny, it's Garrett Morris' portrayal of Lester that's an attention-grabber. He is the most interesting character, with his ready philosophies (read: bull) or a Winston Churchill quote to keep Sunny focused.

Despite its low-key style, there is a continual feeling of pretention that drags the film down. The breakthrough use of digital technology is overshadowed by fragmented editing and storytelling.

"Jackpot" isn't told in a linear fashion. Instead, there are disjointed segments that may appear artful but are confusing and don't make sense until the end. The film switches between Sunny and Lester in the car and in the clubs, Sunny and his wife fighting in a restaurant, a law enforcement official screaming reprimands such as, "What were you thinking?" and shots of someone playing with the car's cassette. It took a while to grasp the cassette was there to show you what direction the film was moving: Reverse meant the action you were about to see was in the past; fast forward was moving to the conclusion.

Too cute. Too hard to follow. Too pretentious.

JACKPOT

** 1/2

STARRING: Jon Gries, Garrett Morris, Daryl Hannah, Peggy Lipton

DIRECTOR: Michael Polish

RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes

RATING: R for language, sexuality, nudity

THE LOWDOWN: A man leaves his wife and child to find riches on the karaoke circuit.

e-mail: truberto@buffnews.com

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