Movie Review: Swing Vote - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Movie Review: Swing Vote

Kevin Costner stars as Bud Johnson in this weak comedy. Kevin Costner stars as Bud Johnson in this weak comedy.

08/15/2008

This political satire is filled with a wealth of comedic performers, each of who are great actors and great comedians. But in this film, they couldn't be less funny.

Kevin Costner stars as Bud Johnson, a drunk who gets fired from his job for being constantly late, taking too many sick days, and being caught on camera breaking cartons and cartons of eggs.

Bud lives in a tiny trailer in Texico, New Mexico, with his daughter, Molly. The mother is M.I.A., but we won't learn why until the end. But by then, we won't care. Neither she nor Bud is fit to raise this little girl.

In fact, the way we meet Molly is in the morning, as she wakes up Bud to remind him to get to work. She cooks for him. She tries to clean up after him. When he's drunk, she even drives him home from the bar. Yes, she doesn't have a license and is probably only 12, but that's what she does. The child parents the father.

This morning is special because it's Election Day, the day Americans come together to chose the next commander-in-chief. In this case, the nation has to chose between incumbent President Carrington, played by Kelsey Grammar, a Republican who is big on ideas but not much else, and Democratic challenger, Don Greenleaf, played by Dennis Hopper, who's all about inclusiveness and bringing together a rainbow of people.

None of these make a bit of difference to Bud. In fact, Bud doesn't believe in voting. He certainly doesn't think it's important. He doesn't even want to register because he fears it might lead to jury duty.

Molly reminds him of his civic responsibilities, but Bud wants to hear none of it. He promises her that he'll go down and cast a vote, but he gets drunk and doesn't make it. Luckily, the Posse Bingo Hall is not the most sophisticated of polling places. Molly is able to vote for Bud. She fakes his signature.

With echoes of the 2004 election buzzing in our minds, we learn that the presidential race here is at a virtual tie with a few electoral votes being at odds. This time around, it's not Florida, but southern New Mexico that becomes the center of attention.

All the votes have been recounted, except for one. Apparently, when Molly went to cast Bud's vote, there was a machine error, and, according to state law, if there was an error on the side of the state, then the voter has the right to vote again.

The New Mexico election board tries to keep this a secret. However, a local newswoman named Kate Madison learns who Bud is and breaks the story to the world that his solitary vote will decide the next president of the United States.

A media circus, not unlike the one Jodie Foster bears witness in Contact (1997), descends upon Bud's trailer park. Everybody from CNN, BBC, MTV, FOX, ET, and the New York Times brings out crews to encircle Bud's trailer and monitor his every move. Of course, the two presidential candidates descend as well and begin their pandering. Each side does whatever he can to sway Bud's vote, and apparently he's easily swayed. Just give him some NASCAR, a beer, and Willie Nelson, and you've got his vote.

What follows had the potential of being a great political satire and actually does succeed in mocking political campaigning and the media's coverage of it. From flip-flopping to ludicrous attack ads, director Joshua Michael Stern lays it all out.

Admittedly, Costner gives a decent performance, but his character becomes so tediously predictable and remains for the most part unlikable, despite his sweet, redneck smile, that you can't go with it. A speech that Costner delivers at the end read as so false and goes on for way too long, expounding the preachy notions of democracy, fairness, civic duty, and so on.

Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane, both of whom have done amazing comedic work before, offer us absolutely no laughs here. Their presences serve merely to antagonize the movie-going audience. Kelsey Grammar and Dennis Hopper, who play the presidential hopefuls, aren't given nearly enough to do. In a key moment, when they're supposed to debate, they don't. The director instead just drifts the camera to the sky and goes to something else.

The only good moment is a song that Costner sings toward the end. Costner proves to be a good performer musically. In terms of Costner films, however, this one sinks like Waterworld.

Two Stars out of Five
Rated PG-13 for language
Running Time: 2 hrs.

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