Swing Vote ** (out of ****)

Director: Joshua Michael Stern
Writers: Jason Richman and Joshua Michael Stern
Cast: Kevin Costner, Madeline Carroll, Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Hopper, Stanley Tucci, Nathan Lane, Paulette Patton, George Lopez, Mare Winningham
Rating: PG-13 (language)
Running Time: 121 min

Release Date: 8/1/08

Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner) was at one time singer in a failed band most of whose member are incarcerated. His dreams of success are totally in the past. He now works in an unskilled job putting eggs in those nice Styrofoam cartons containing a dozen. In addition he is a drunk and the father of Molly (Madeline Carroll) a very bright young girl whose teacher has her all worked up over the Presidential election. Bud had avoided registering to vote because he is worried that he might get jury duty. However, Molly has filled out a mail-in registration form (they do it that way in New Mexico?) because she want him to vote.

One election day Molly is waiting for him at the polling place in what looks like the ultimate low turn out election. Bud just has been fired from his job and he is out getting drunk and gambling on a fuse ball game. When he doesn’t show up to vote, Molly takes advantage of the fact the election officials are all away from their posts save for one who is asleep! Molly’s developing career in election fraud takes another step forward when she forges her fathers name on the voter role and attempts to vote for him. A poll worker who is not asleep trips over the cord turning off the machine causing a miscast vote. Seriously, this seems one of the most implausible plot developments I’ve ever seen.

However, this sets in motion the main theme of this film as the election is deadlocked without either Republican incumbent President Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammer) or Democrat Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper) with required 270 electoral votes required to win. According to the movie because of the failure of the voting machine to record his vote, he is entitled to recast his vote within ten days. The New Mexico secretary of state pays a visit to Bud’s trailer to inform him of his but is tailed by Kate Madison (Paulette Patton) an enterprising journalist.

So by the next day an army of reporters and camera crews are stacking out the Bud’s trailer. Both the Boone and Greenleaf campaigns go into high gear to get his vote at all costs led by their respective campaign mangers Martin Fox (Stanley Tucci) and Art Crum (Nathan Lane). Bud and Molly are at first are very shy about their new fame and hole up in the trailer. Then Tom Petty drives up in his race car and invites Bud to go for a ride with him to meet President Boone on Air Force One which has landed nearby. Donald Greenleaf enlists Willie Nelson to invite Bud to a Democrat party where he is joined by his band mates of have been released from prison no doubt with the help a Gov. Richardson. (The movie didn’t say that but it makes sense.)

After Kate Madison arranges an interview with Bud by convincing Molly that it’s a good idea, things take a turn for the worse. Bud is completely unaware of the various political buzzwords and appears to be for gay marriage and against illegal immigration. At this point Boone releases an ad strongly endorsing gay marriage and Greenleaf counters with an add opposing illegal immigration stunning both candidate’s supporters. When Boone’s spy finds out that Greenleaf has told Bud about plans to dam his favorite river he reverses his commitment to the developers and declares the river a national wildlife refuge. Bud is seems to indicate that he is prolife in answer to a reporters question which causes Greenleaf to release an anti-abortion ad with little children exploding into dust like vampires slain by Buffy and concluding with an endorsement of Intelligent Design.

This series of flip-flops completely disgusts the supports of both sides and lead the general public to the realization that the next President is going to be chosen by an idiot and the both candidates will do anything to win. The drama comes to a close with Kate discovering Molly’s voter fraud and a final Presidential debate just for Bud with Bud himself asking the questions. Will Kate expose the fraud? Who will Bud ultimately choose if she doesn’t?

For a Kevin Costner movie, Swing Vote, avoids the heavy handed approach one might expect. In fact President Boone, who seems more like President Ford than any other Republican in recent memory, decides not to bribe Bud in one act of decency. Donald Greenleaf comes off like Howard Dean on tranquilizers gets slapped in the face by his wife after flipping on abortion. Yet for all of its effort to be neutral there is a steady undertone of liberal issues being prominent through out the film. Madeline Carroll gives a memorable performance as Molly. This film isn’t very good given its rather improbably plot but political aficionados might get a few laughs out of it.


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