Swing Vote

by Alan Rapp on August 1, 2008

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Swing Vote
  • IMDB: link

“You’re ruining America!”

When the outcome of the Presidential election comes down to one uncounted ballot in New Mexico the entire country’s attention becomes focused on Earnest “Bud” Johnson (Kevin Costner) an unemployed single father from a small town called Texaco.

Both campaigns, along with news media from around the country land in Texaco to court this doofus who, in ten days time, will decide the fate of the election.

The film is many things, part parody and part cautionary tale.  At the heart of the film is the relationship between Bud and his much smarter daughter Molly Johnson (young Madeline Carroll, who steals the film in her first performance on screen).  There’s also a subplot about the secret of Bud’s ballot which, although sets up the story, is a bit burdensome to the plot.

By the way, Judge Reinhold fans (yes, he’s still alive, who knew!?) should look for him in a small role as Bud’s friend Walter, complete with laughably bad facial hair.  And as a DS9 fan Nana Vistor‘s small role brought a smile to my face.  What a cast!

As Bud becomes the center of a media storm both candidates (Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Hopper) are forced to ask themselves how far they will go to win one man’s vote as their campaign leaders (Stanley Tucci, Nathan Lane) are prepared to disregard their own beliefs and those of their party in order to win the deciding vote.  The results are hugely entertaining as the film takes selling your soul to win an election to a new level.  Also burdened is young reporter Kate Madison (Paula Patton) who is forced to bend and even break her own rules and ethics to get to the heart of the story.

It’s in these tough choices and questions that film finally finds it’s voice.  The second half of the film works better than the first, though there are funny moments scattered throughout.  In terms of style and content the film reminded me a bit of both 1999’s Edtv and 2006’s Man of the Year (read that review), though it’s a slightly better film than both.

There’s a lot which works here, and much that doesn’t as well.  The film never really settles on a tone, jumping from parody to drama and back again.  However, as a message about civic responsibility and a humorous examination at all that is good and bad with politics and media, it hits more than it misses.  Although shaky at the beginning, the film slowly, much like Bud himself, finds its voice and, it turns out, has something to say.  I liked the film more and more as the story settled down and became less about antics and more about choices and consequences.  If you’re patient I think you’ll find this one worth your time, as there is much here to enjoy and discuss afterwards (even if the film isn’t quite as smart as the ideas it introduces).  And if young Ms. Carroll doesn’t earn a nomination she should demand a recount.

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