SWING VOTE (Joshua Michael Stern). 120 minutes. Opens Friday (August 1). Rating: NN
Kevin Costner has a thing for movies that say something about America.
Not the real America, mind you, where decades of partisan politics have left the very idea of a unified nation in a bloody shambles. No, Costner's America is an idealized, Capraesque hodgepodge of well-meaning folks just waiting to rediscover their common sense and strength of character? if only some humble fella could step forward and show them the way.
Some humble fella like Kevin Costner.
Swing Vote casts Costner as another of his patented American Everymessiahs ? you know, as in Dances With Wolves, Waterworld, The Postman and even Thirteen Days. Here, he's a single father named, I shit you not, Earnest Johnson. (Everyone calls him Bud, but even so.)
Earnest/Bud is what you might call a disconnected voter. Surly, sloppy and barely aware there's an election on, he's browbeaten into going to the polls by his precocious, politically conscious daughter (Madeline Carroll). But even that gets screwed up.
A freak combination of split electoral votes and a computer glitch involving Bud's ballot have conspired to place our hero at the centre of a Constitutional crisis. The whole election boils down to a revote of one, with the presidency in Bud's hands, so the candidates, Republican (Kelsey Grammer) and Democrat (Dennis Hopper), hightail it down to little Texico, New Mexico, to court him.
Director Joshua Michael Stern, who co-wrote the film with Jason Richman, is trying for sharp political satire, as career politicians on both sides pander shamelessly in order to win Bud's favour. Every time the poor guy is caught on tape discussing his stance on one thing or another, party strategists spit out commercials promising to do whatever he wants, even if it's totally contrary to their principles. The Republican starts going green; the Democrat vows to outlaw abortion. Funny. Clever, too.
But in the second hour, producer/star Costner's personal vision asserts itself more and more, scrubbing the complexity and cynicism from the action until everything is twinkling with blind optimism and can-do spirit. It's telling that in a final debate sequence, the filmmakers are far more interested in Bud's hard question for the candidates about healing the class divide than they are in their answers.
Swing Vote also goes a long way to confirm my personal theory that most movies would be 10 times better as epi sodes of The Simpsons. Costner's basically playing Homer anyway, and Carroll's precocious exasperation is indistinguishable from Lisa's. Grammer's role as the Republican incumbent just takes Sideshow Bob Roberts to its logical conclusion.
Oh, and the Simpsons writers would have come up with a better ending.