Swing VoteDirected by: Joshua Michael Stern Cast: Kevin Costner, Madeline Carroll, Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Hoppper Time: 2 hrs Rating: PG-13
Plot: Bud Johnson (Costner) is a beer-drinking loser, who is just barely coasting through life. Somehow he got lucky and has the perfect caretaker -- his daughter Molly (Carroll). She's an over-achieving 12-year-old who cares about voting. One slip up and suddenly Bud is thrust into the ultimate decision of having the one vote to decide the presidential election.
Who’s It For? If your perfect weekend is Nascar and country music, with barely any political discussion, then this is your cup of tea ... I mean bottle of beer. And by the way, if somehow you are insulted by what I just wrote, that doesn't make sense. Clearly the film is pandering to a particular crowd.
Expectations: Costner is hit and miss. Tin Cup was the last great film of his and he played a lovable loser there as well, so I had a hint of faith. But I was worried the hook of one vote to decide the presidential election would be a bigger stretch than a guy in a cape with pointy ears saving Gotham.
Actors: Kevin Coster as Bud Johnson: Bud is simple. That fact is driven into the ground. He's also a functioning alcoholic, which the film uses as a punchline more than anything. That's always uncomfortable in a family film. Bud's closet is only full of cut-off shirts, until the end when he finally shows a hint of growth, and then of course the jacket comes on. Still, there are hints of Costner getting this performance right, when he is muttering lines like, "She's my only good thing," about his daughter. Score: 4
Madeline Carroll as Molly Johnson: Carroll will constantly be compared to Abigal Bresil's Little Miss Sunshine performance. Mainly because girls aren't given many lead roles. She's good here, but they could have achieved a more realistic goal if she wasn't SO smart, or maybe a hint older. Score: 5
Talking: Nothing political of any performance is said until the very end when Bud proposes a sincere question to both presidential candidates. It's almost as if it's just a father/daughter film and at the last second they decided to have the political system be the back drop. Amazingly, they sell the election coming down to one vote pretty well. It's a snafu with an electronic voting machine, and law states that Bud must recast his uncounted vote. But there is never the necessary uproar or addition attempts at a recount to make it believable. Score: 3
Sights & Sounds: Bud sings a Willie Nelson song and gets to drive in a stock car with Richard Petty. The other cameos come from journalists, and I use the term loosely. Chris Matthews, Larry King and others are used to analyze the election results that come down to one vote. I am absolutely sick of real-life talking heads being used in films. They have no credibility in the real world if they are will to sell-out this quickly for a little face time on the big screen. Even Bill Maher hurts his biting, genuine, real-life criticisms when he will read the lines of a pretty poor screenplay. Just because almost everyone seems to do it, that doesn't make it right. Plus, the scene where Molly's mom comes back into the picture has to be the most out-of-place moment in cinema this year. Score: 2
OVERALL Costner gives his best awwwww, shucks performance and it's more annoying than heartfelt. Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Hoppper, Stanely Tucci and Nathan Lane all show up to get a paycheck, but there is nothing here for them to really do. Instead of talking about what Swing Vote is, let's talk about what it should have been. Molly should have been a bit older, and it shouldn't have been a presidential election, but instead a governor or mayor race. This would have given the film a hint of credibility with the concept of one vote counting. Plus, once the political discussion finally begins in this film, the movie ends, without either candidate ever proving what they stand for to the average American. Score: 3 out of 10