Saturday, August 2, 2008

Swing Vote

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Apathetic Constituent Courted by Candidates in Election Day Sitcom

Ernest “Bud” Johnson (Kevin Costner) is a middle-aged slacker raising his daughter by himself in Texico, New Mexico, a desert oasis located along the border with Texas. He and 12 year-old Molly (Madeline Carroll) both miss her mother, Larissa (Mare Winningham), a selfish substance-abuser who ran off to Albuquerque to pursue a singing career. Bud, himself is also a wannabe musician, having played in a Willie Nelson tribute band called The Half Nelsons, at least until his rhythm section was arrested and ended up in prison.

Bud’s day job is at a local egg factory, where the pay is barely enough to keep a roof over their heads. And even that lowly, assembly line position is currently in jeopardy because of an influx of Mexicans willing to “work twice as hard for half the money.” So, he and Molly have had to make do in a modest trailer without a telephone or other modern amenities most of us take for granted.

Then, when Bud’s job does finally get “insourced” as he describes it, rather than look for gainful employment, he drowns his woes in alcohol at his favorite watering hole. Fortunately, his spousified daughter is mature enough to pick up the slack. Somehow, the spunky little enabler does everything for her dad from driving him home when he’s inebriated to voting for him on the sly on Election Day.

Life changes for Bud soon after state officials inform him that, due to an electronic voting machine malfunction, his ballot was the only one not yet counted. Otherwise, the tally ended in a tie, so his vote will determine whether New Mexico’s five electoral votes will go to the Democratic challenger, Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper), or to the incumbent, President Boone (Kelsey Grammer).

Furthermore, the national contest also ended in a draw which means that whichever candidate prevails in New Mexico will win the presidency as well. Bud is given ten days to make up his mind, during which time the press and politicians from both parties descend on tiny Texico, turning the town into a media circus.

The candidates proceed to court the affable but apathetic slob for his vote, freely changing their positions on everything from abortion to the environment to gay marriage to satisfy their final constituent. Will Bud reward the Republican, who has promised him employment as a lobbyist, or the Democrat with whom he appears more naturally aligned on the issues?

Even if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief long enough to swallow this idiotic premise, Swing Vote is ultimately the bitterly disappointing with nothing much to offer other than some sappy sermonizing about patriotically exercising right to vote. The picture ends on a cliffhanger leaving the election unresolved, as if setting us up for a sequel. What a cinematic slap in the face to generate tension and have an audience to invest emotionally for such an unsatisfying, anticlimactic resolution!

On second thought, maybe there was a winner here, corporate America, judging by the distracting omnipresence of very distracting product placements for everything from Budweiser to MTV to Old Spice to UPS to Monopoly to Pepsi to Chevrolet to Newsweek to Motts to Ritz Crackers to Quaker Oats to Verizon Fios and so forth. Because the mediocre script was of obviously of secondary import to the ads, the production squandered the services of a gifted supporting cast which included the likes of Nathan Lane, George Lopez, Paula Patton, Stanley Tucci, Judge Reinhold, along with innumerable celebrity cameos.

A string of shameless sales pitches sans the rudiments of a major motion picture. Next time, would you mind including an ending, if you’re going to ask us to sit through two hours of commercials?

Poor (0 stars)

Rated PG-13 for profanity.

Running time: 119 minutes

Studio: Touchstone Pictures

To see a trailer of Swing Vote, visit:

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