- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Walt Disney
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
t doesn’t take a rocket scientist to market a movie like “Swing Vote.” In fact, with political interest at an all-time high thanks to the upcoming presidential election, the idea of releasing a political comedy only months before the American public enters the voting booth is something a monkey could plan. What isn’t so simple is convincing moviegoers that a film driven by such an implausible premise can be taken seriously. Thankfully, it doesn’t need to be.
No doubt inspired by the too-close-to-call elections of 2000 and 2004, “Swing Vote” doesn’t pretend to be historical fact or biting social commentary. Instead, it succeeds almost entirely because of the goofball fun it has with its what-if scenario, and had director Joshua Michael Stern just stayed the course instead of opting to force-feed the audience his own philosophies in the final act, the film would have been better for it.
Kevin Costner stars as Bud Johnson, a first-class dumbass with a second-rate job packing eggs at a factory in the small town of Texico, New Mexico. When he’s fired for drinking on the job, Bud heads to the local bar to drown his sorrows in even more booze, completely forgetting about the promise he made to his daughter, Molly (Madeline Carroll), to vote earlier that day. Determined to uphold her father’s “social contract,” Molly sneaks into the polling place just before it closes to cast Bud’s vote, but before she can select a candidate, the voting machine accidentally resets. When the election is left at a standstill with both candidates needing New Mexico’s five electoral votes to win, it’s discovered that Bud’s uncounted ballot will decide the victor. With ten days to recast his vote, Bud becomes the talk of the town, while the two candidates in question – Republican incumbent Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammer) and Democratic rival Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper) – bombard him with promises, hoping to win his vote by whatever means possible.
Not since Jack Bauer saved the free world for the sixth time has a movie or TV series required its audience to suspend disbelief quite as much as this, but if you can ignore all the technicalities that would prevent such a scenario from ever happening, “Swing Vote” is actually kind of fun. The relationship between Bud and his daughter (who in turn acts like his mother) is the glue that holds together the entire picture. The two have so much fun together in the first half of the film that it’s upsetting to see that chemistry interrupted by silly plot developments. Costner has always been good at playing the deadbeat hero, so it’s not surprising that he nails the character like a seasoned veteran, but it’s Madeline Carroll who ultimately steals the show as his precocious daughter. This is the first time that many will see the young actress at work, but it won’t be the last. If Abigail Breslin was the next Dakota Fanning, then Madeline is the next Abigail; or at least a worthy substitute.
The rest of the cast members are just as good in their limited roles (including Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane as opposing campaign managers), but the back-and-forth schmoozing of Bud between the two candidates quickly grows tiring. It’s understandable why Stern would want to keep it all in – as Boone and Greenleaf switch their views on major issues to please Bud, they film new TV spots that contradict their campaigns (including a twisted anti-abortion ad that not even the “South Park” guys would touch) – but it drags out the story longer than necessary.
The movie is in dire need of a trip to the editing room, but Stern seems so fearful that his movie will suddenly become biased should he give one candidate more screen time than the other, that it becomes overcrowded with too many similar moments. He would have been better off taking the risk, because “Swing Vote” would have been a better film for it. Instead, he becomes so obsessed with making a statement (in this case, it’s not who you vote for, but that you vote) that his movie is drained of all the good-hearted fun that won you over in the first place.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
The single-disc release of “Swing Vote” isn’t exactly packed with bonus material, but it still contains all of the usual suspects including an audio commentary with director Joshua Michael Stern and writer Jason Richman, a handful of deleted and extended scenes, and a short bit on casting (“Inside the Campaign”) disguised as a making-of featurette. Sadly, there isn’t any Blu-ray exclusive material to be found, but judging by the weak collection of extras, it shouldn’t be all that surprising.