Rating: 1.5 stars
Anyone who knows me, already knows that I am no fan of Kevin Costner. I find his whole self-styled Everyman routine tiresome and pretentious. He’s had some great movies over the years—Bull Durham remains one of my all-time favorites—but every time he gets into that preachy, Jimmy-Stewart-wannabe mode, I check out.
So Swing Vote, which was produced by Costner (most likely explaining a prolonged scene featuring him and his band), was something of a special ordeal for me. There was Costner, playing Bud Johnson, a (supposedly) lovable loser from New Mexico, who, through a remarkable series of events, has 10 days to cast his vote and determine the next president of the United States. Costner is in his full-on hang dog, sheepish, aw shucks persona here. Yuck.
He’s a single dad, raising a movie-precocious daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll, one of the film’s saving graces)—or, more accurately, she’s raising him. She rouses him from bed every morning, gives him civics lessons, and even drives the truck when he’s drunk. (Mind you, she’s in the fifth grade.) Maybe this is supposed to be cute, but I had a hard time getting behind a dad who was so flagrantly neglectful.
Anyway, once it becomes clear that Bud is the elusive swing vote, both candidates—the slightly dim Republican president (Kelsey Grammar) and the slightly spineless Democratic nominee (Dennis Hopper)—set up camp in Texico, New Mexico, where Bud is from.
Swing Vote tries to be a biting satire about our messed up political system—both candidates will do anything to woo Bud’s vote, including flip-flopping on various positions to accommodate him—but it has nothing particularly interesting to say. The fact that the Republican is an empty suit and the Democrat is a bit of a weenie shows you the depth of the film’s politics—when in doubt, they play it obvious and safe.
A whole lot of good actors work hard to make this thing somewhat tolerable—Grammar is particularly good as the sitting president and it’s fun to see old pros Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane as the campaign managers—but it’s barely that. The film tries to balance comedy with political satire and sentimentality, as Bud finally learns to be a better citizen and father, but the whole thing is awkward—and long (just over two hours.) Frankly, I’d rather abstain.