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Review: 'Swing Vote'

Political comedy uses wild premise to serve up a civics lessons without much substance.

By Peter RainerFilm critic of The Christian Science Monitor / August 2, 2008

Kevin Costner is in full-blown Everyman mode in "Swing Vote," a political comedy that also tries to pull your heartstrings.

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With the upcoming presidential election looming, "Swing Vote" is certainly timely, but it also strains to be timeless. It's as if a moldering old Frank Capra script had been retrieved from the Hollywood vaults. Dusted off and brought up to date, it's still the same old Capracorn – minus the populist pizzazz he might have provided.

Bud Johnson (Costner) is a good-natured goof-off with custody of his precocious 12-year-old daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll). He spends most of his time napping and guzzling beer and getting canned from jobs. But he's not a bad guy, really – just aimless. He doesn't follow politics and doesn't much care who wins the presidency, but Molly makes it her business to see that he votes – it doesn't even matter for whom. When he screws up on election day, she steps in for him. Through a series of implausibilities too risible to relate here, Bud's vote, which went unprocessed, becomes a do-over. Oh, and his choice will become the next president.

There's no point in deriding the ridiculousness of this premise. But, having set up this every-vote-counts scenario, why didn't director Joshua Michael Stern and his co-screenwriter Jason Richman put some teeth in it? This is the kind of "political" movie in which all sides are given equal time. Republicans and Democrats are made to look equally good-bad and no real-world issues are introduced except as the stuff of one-liners. It's all so mushily ecumenical.

When the network TV folks and demonstrators of all stripes and creeds descend on Bud's tiny town of Texico, New Mexico, the circus-like atmosphere is remarkably well-mannered. (About the worst thing that happens is that an obese cameraman leans on Bud's car.) Incumbent Republican President Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammer) courts Bud by bringing him aboard the presidential plane for a chat. Democratic challenger Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper) goes for a more down-home approach, setting up a shindig where Bud can jam with his band performing covers of Willie Nelson hits.


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