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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > Swing Vote

MOVIE REVIEWS

SWING VOTE (2008)

Starring Kevin Costner, Madeline Carroll, Paula Patton, Dennis Hopper, Kelsey Grammer, Stanley Tucci, Nathan Lane, George Lopez, Judge Reinhold, Charles Esten, Mare Winningham, Mark Moses, Willie Nelson, Richard Petty, Chris Matthews, Larry King, James Carville, Tucker Carlson, Mary Hart, Arianna Huffington and Bill Maher.

Screenplay by Jason Richman and Joshua Michael Stern.

Directed by Joshua Michael Stern.

Distributed by Touchstone Pictures.  120 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

Swing Vote

Eight years ago Swing Vote would have felt like science fiction.  This was before Gore vs. Bush - where an entire Presidential election was decided by the Supreme Court because it was supposedly too close to call. 

So now, the idea of a Presidential election being decided by one man seems not only possible, it somehow seems logical.  It is also a brilliant story idea - one which Swing Vote does not fully take advantage of.

Don't get me wrong, Swing Vote is a pleasant diversion, a fun and mostly involving comedy.  However, with a premise like this, it could - and should - have been so much more.

Kevin Costner plays Bud, a shiftless, lazy, redneck alcoholic.  The only thing he has really going for him - though of course he does not totally realize it until too late - is a smart, thoughtful, sensitive, compassionate 12-year-old daughter, Molly (Madeline Carroll).  In fact, their roles have changed so that she's essentially the parent since Bud's addict ex (Mare Winningham) left town.  She makes the meals, wakes him up, makes sure he goes to work, tries to keep him relatively sober. 

When her social studies teacher convinces her of the importance of voting, she registers for Bud and makes him promise to meet her at the polling place on election day.  He gets fired and gets drunk - and lets her down yet again.  The girl tries to vote for him and when a fluke error makes it look like the vote wasn't accepted, Bud becomes responsible for the vote which will decide the future of the free world.

Bud is thrown into a media circus.  Reporters are lurking everywhere, the press is camped outside his camper, and both candidates and their advisers head down to his tiny town to woo him.

Bud is rather overwhelmed by the attention but learns to like his short-lived notoriety.  Still, it starts to weigh on him that perhaps he isn't qualified to make such a monumental decision.

Of course, it is hard to totally feel sorry for the guy.  Even after he realizes the joke he has become and the fact that with his vote he has a huge responsibility to the world, he generally refuses to change.  He can't be bothered to even look into the controversial policies that he is being mocked for not understanding until at the very, very last minute.  Hell, if not for his daughter constantly waking him, he probably wouldn't even get out of bed in the morning.

Still as he gets deeper and deeper into the dilemma, Swing Vote kind of takes the coward's way out.

Unfortunately, to a large extent, Swing Vote is guilty of the same crime which it accuses the politicians of committing - it is trying so hard to be all things to all people that it plays the middle and will not take any hard stands on the important issues which may alienate some of the viewers.  Vital issues of modern life are dismissed, oversimplified or ignored.

Both parties are shown to be cynical, pandering, win-at-all cost hypocrites.  This leads to a bunch of fake commercials where the candidates go against their key principles to win this one vote: the Democrat comes out as Pro-Life and anti-immigration, the Republican becomes environmentally friendly and pro-gay marriage.

The Republican incumbents (played by Kelsey Grammar as the Pres and Stanley Tucci as his top adviser) come out looking a tiny bit better, but both sides have to do some repulsive things.  Even that slight bias apparently came about in the editing room; legendary actor Dennis Hopper, who plays the Democratic challenger, has acknowledged that he was unhappy with the final cut because way too much of his character's motivation and actions ended getting left out. 

Therefore, instead of lecturing the leaders on their acts - the big finale has Bud lecturing them on his mistakes and how he is going to try to be a better person.  While that is nice and all, after the media firestorm settles down that will only effect two people - Bud and his daughter.  It sort of lets the air out the tires in a still surprisingly moving scene where Bud uses a Presidential debate to force the politicians who have spent so much time in rarified air to hear letters from the common folk which address the specific problems of the people.

And of course... in keeping with the film's fear of alienating their personal base, the audience... the movie fades to black as he heads into the voting booth, so we never know who he voted for (though we can take an educated guess -- see above...).

I do like Swing Vote.  I just wish if it was going to tread on such incendiary ground, it could have taken more of a stand.  Even Bud realizes - eventually - that sometimes you do have to take a stand in life.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright 2009 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: January 14, 2009.

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Copyright 2009  PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: January 14, 2009.

 

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