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Swing Vote

Review Written by: Estefan Ellison
Film: B-

Directed by: Joshua Michael Stern
Written by: Joshua Michael Stern and Jason Richman
Produced by: Kevin Costner and Jim Wilson
Starring: Kevin Costner, Madeline Carroll, Paula Patton, Kelsey Grammar, Dennis Hopper, Nathan Lane, Stanley Tucci
Studio: Touchstone Pictures

In every election year, the biggest topic of discussion comes over who is the most responsible to hold the position the President of the United States. Should the Commander-in-Chief be the aging war veteran or the new fellow pleading for change? Swing Vote does not try to answer this question and it certainly will not change who the public will vote for in the upcoming election. That is part of what makes the film almost work as it tries to not tag on a political statement and in a rarity for a Hollywood film about a presidential election, both candidates are portrayed equally. In Swing Vote, it is not about the political party, but rather the man who wants to run the country. In its heart, the film is simply a comedy about a beer-drinking New Mexican chap who is given the chance to actually make his vote count and not just be one in a million ballots. The film only start to falter when it forgets this and begins to take itself much too seriously.

Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner) lives alone with his clever daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll) in a small New Mexican town and trying to make ends meet, despite his major drinking problem and tendency to go fishing rather than work. When he falls asleep drunk in his car on election day, his daughter goes to the booth and votes for him. However, after a computer error, the vote is not counted and Bud is given ten days to re-vote: the catch being that his one vote which choose the American President for the next four years. Suddenly, the media starts to invade his small town and the two competing Presidents (played by Kelsey Grammar and Dennis Hopper) along with their campaign managers (Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane, respectively) arrive to get Bud to vote their party. This causes much confusion as Bud becomes media-obsessed, the two candidates start changing their stances on issues to please Bud and Molly must get her father to make the right choice and not blow this one-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Swing Vote is a flawed film, but the film definitely succeeds in getting some good performances out of its cast of talented actors. Kevin Costner is his usual charming self, while also going for a more gruff and slightly head-in-the-clouds approach than previously shown in work like Bull Durham. While another actor might have made Bud too un-sympathetic, Costner succeeds in making us care for the character. Madeline Carroll is the starlet of the film, allowing Molly to be more charming than annoying as often plagues young actresses who play smart-aleck characters. She also manages to deliver the one truly emotional scene in which she stands up for her father. Nathan Lane is also a stand-out providing his usual perfect comedic timing and one particular dramatic moment that proves even moreso than he is one of the most talented actors of stage and screen. As for the rest of the cast, Kelsey Grammar and Dennis Hopper both appear to be having fun in their roles, while Stanley Tucci and Judge Reinhold are both criminally underused.

Along with the actors, one of the best aspect of the film comes in how it does not lean politically all the way to the right or to the left, providing a more neutral approach while still managing to satirise both sides. In the end, it is the campaign managers who are squandered the most rather than the candidates, who are portrayed in a fair manner. The Republican and Democratic labels are also not hammered into the ground, as the film shows that Bud is voting for the person rather than the political party. The way the film takes a look at the media's spin doctor approach as well as presidential candidates "flip-flopping" to win votes is done in a funny way as well. When Swing Vote stays firmly in the comedy arena, it proves to be a genuine winner. However, there is a shift in the second act where it starts to take itself too seriously and begins to forget that it is a comedic Frank Capra-esque fantasy and it certainly lacks the subtlety of Capra's finest. In addition, subplots are added that do not add much to the story and questions are left un-answered. Where are the vice-presidential candidates and why are they never mentioned? Why spend so much money on television advertisements for only one person? Ultimately, Swing Vote is a fantasy and while it starts to drag in the final act, it still manages to at least provide a great cast with some topical material.

Kevin Costner as the undecided voter Bud Johnson in Swing Vote.
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