Touchstone’s Swing Vote is a political fable on the value of the individual vote; a tale of reversed roles in a dysfunctional family, and the best thing Kevin Costner has done in a decade. The plot revolves around one vote being ruined because of mechanical failure – and the courting of the supposed caster of that one vote by the incumbent Republican President [glossily played by Kelsey Grammer] and the principled Democratic challenger [a surprisingly delicate performance by Dennis Hopper].
The problem is that Ernest “Bud” Johnson [Kevin Costner] got drunk and passed out, thereby missing his appointment with his daughter, Molly [Madeline Carroll – Watch out, Dakota! Look out, Abigail! There’s a very talented new kid in town!] at the polling station. When Bud fails to show, Molly takes it upon herself to sneak into a voting booth [after sneaking a voting card and forging her dad’s signature]. Unfortunately, a cleaning lady accidentally unplugs the machine just as Molly tries to cast Bud’s vote.
Once the word gets out that Bud will have to re-cast his vote, he becomes the center of a three-ring circus that includes the President and Democratic candidate. As Bud is interviewed, the two candidates are lead by their campaign managers [Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane] into adopting each other’s policies, until finally, Bud is called out by Bill Maher on national TV [“Bud Johnson is a dumbass!”].
Costner does a great job as the befuddled Bud, who has never recovered from his wife leaving him and Molly. As we see in the first two acts, he is a drunk who can’t hold on to a job packing eggs – and Molly is really parenting him. When he suddenly becomes the center of attention on all the news shows, he rides the wave without really thinking what he’s saying – or what it effect it will have on the country’s image around the world. The two candidates are so focused on winning that they ignore their principles as they try to persuade Bud to vote for each of them.
There’s a bit of speechifyin’, but it’s done with sincerity and a bit of unexpected wit, and really speaks to issues like hypocrisy in politics – while simultaneously giving us the story of a loser who finds something inside himself that he truly didn’t expect to be there. Perhaps the film works because Costner financed the film himself and thus felt a real connection to the material – or maybe, the film’s secret ingredient is Carroll, who is definitely one to watch. Whatever the case, even though it is a mite long, Swing Vote does work.
Director/Co-Writer [with Jason Richman] Joshua Michael Stern has, in Swing Vote, produced a thought-provoking little dramedy that deserves to be seen. Hopefully, it will corral all the moviegoers who choose not to brave the crowd of the weekend’s blockbuster fantasy/adventure movie [you know, the one with the mummies].
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Final Grade: B