Poor Kevin Costner. Once a box office star, he is now the anti-star, and for no real apparent reason. He's an enjoyable actor, and if you look at his resume, he has far more good films than bad ones. Audiences and critics alike still punish him for Waterworld and The Postman, even though since he hasn't done any more disasters than most other big actors. Nevertheless, it's no surprise that his latest film, Swing Vote, came and went from theaters without a thought. It's a shame, actually, as Swing Vote is surprisingly entertaining.
Costner stars as a down-on-his-luck single father named Bud who has never cared about politics - or much of anything at all. In complete contrast is his young daughter, wise beyond her years and well-educated on the world. By fluke chance, however, Bud is thrust into the national spotlight when it is determined that he is the one vote that will decide the outcome of the presidential election. Suddenly, Bud finds himself hounded by reporters and candidates alike, even though he has no interest in the process or the issues.
A lot of critics have complained about the ridiculousness of the premise, as it completely ignores the fact that if a state election were that close, a recount would occur - it would never come down to one man's vote. Of course, even if that were to happen, the United States would not establish a 10-day voting window for the person to make his decision. Ultimately, the audience most interested in a film like this - those with some political knowledge - would balk at the silliness of the picture.
Frankly, Swing Vote is not that bad. If you can get past the silly premise, the rest of the movie works rather well. Sure, there are some plot holes, but Swing Vote is funny and entertaining. It won't win any awards, but there are enough laughs and humorous situations to make it worth watching. Costner is perfect for the role, as he plays an idiotic drunk rather effectively. Costner has always been the king of these kinds of characters, and doesn't disappoint.
Still, Swing Vote isn't amazing. It doesn't always gel and it isn't clear whether it's just intending to be funny or be a true political satire. The political ads that the candidates implement partway through the picture are hilarious, but in other stretches, the satire is missing. Ultimately, though, it is just a comedy that is not a must-see.
Swing Vote isn't a particularly memorable movie, but is surprisingly entertaining nonetheless. Recommended.
Review by Robert Bell (C-)
Leaning ever so slightly on the side of Republican, this cloying, saccharine and entirely didactic offering of Capra-esque summer counter-programming, may be the perfect treat for the senior citizen crowd who will surely gasp and feel a little naughty during the many occasions that Kevin Costner cusses and takes the Lord's name in vain.
From the moment the film opens onto a charming small town in the south, to the moment that we learn that every person and every vote counts, Swing Vote keeps its morally superior and idealistic values at the forefront, even when alcoholism, under-aged driving and politically incorrect campaign commercials occasionally fizzle to the surface.
While doing a class project on the historical significance of the American political landscape and the right to vote, the precocious Molly Johnson (Madeline Carroll) asks her redneck alcoholic father Bud (Kevin Costner) if she can be involved in the voting process. When he gets drunk and forgets to meet her at the polling station, Molly decides to sneak in and make his vote for him.
A series of mishaps leave the vote uncounted, which becomes significant when the entire presidential election comes down to a tie and has to rely on Bud's vote to decide who the next president will be.
When industrious local journalist Kate Madison (Paula Patton) breaks the story to the media, both the Republican (Kelsey Grammar) and Democratic (Dennis Hopper) presidential candidates make an effort to "swing" Bud's vote, while he garners his 15-minutes of fame and his daughter learns of the political hypocrisy that masks the true needs of the American people.
While the implication that Republican political candidates use fear tactics and forcefulness to sway affiliation and Democrats blow a lot of hot air up everyone's behind with their idealistic platforms is amusing, it's not particularly fresh or insightful. Also, given that everyone learns their lesson in the end, any intended subversion is lost in an uplifting score and the usual "people-really-do-mean-well" crap.
What may be the most interesting subtextual aspect of Swing Vote is the notion that the average American voter is an easily manipulated, borderline-retarded, lemming. This may have been unintentional, but exists nonetheless.
Despite the contrived and calculating nature throughout, there are some moments of true hilarity that arise when Bud makes entirely inappropriate statements about political issues like abortion, gay marriage and immigration. Both candidates (illogically) change their platforms - through television commercials no less - with amusing results, which involve Mexicans running across the border with chickens, gay stereotypes standing on a rainbow flag with Kelsey Grammar and exploding children in a playground.
This mild amusement does mildly detract from the manipulative nature of the film and Kevin Costner does do his best to make his alcoholic cliché palatable, but little else is particularly digestible for anyone who doesn't enjoy being spoon-fed pablum.
Overall, what attempts to be an accessible mediation on current political landscapes, winds up feeling a lot like those early 90's Jim Belushi movies where an average douchebag learns a valuable lesson and helps make the world a slightly better place.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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