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SWING VOTE

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Kevin Costner, Paula Patton, Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Hopper, Nathan Lane, Stanley Tucci, George Lopez, Madeline Carroll
Director: Joshua Michael Stern
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Touchstone
Features: See Review
Length: 120 Minutes
Release Date: January 13, 2009

“The only question now is who you voted for, and are you going to vote the same way?”

“Remind me again who’s, uh, running.”

Film ***

Lately, we’ve been swamped with so many seriously themed political movies that to see one told in the form of a breezy comedy was a true breath of fresh air. Swing Vote is not a preachy movie in the slightest, which was really a pleasant surprise. Instead, it’s more of a Capra-esque comedy that poses the question: What would happen if a presidential election came down to a single vote?

And better yet, what if the person deciding the fate of the presidency was a lazy, recently fired, beer loving good old boy from New Mexico like Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner). Though that question does linger throughout the movie, the real heart of Swing Vote is the perfectly realized, if complicated, relationship between Bud and his young daughter, Molly (Madeline Carroll). She is so wise beyond her years and so mature for her age, that you’d never believe she was raised solely by a guy like Bud, which is another unique story twist.

As the movie opens, Bud is seen as more of the child in the relationship, since it’s Molly who has to wake him up every morning to take her to school. She’s also gone to the trouble of finally making her dad a registered voter through the mail. It’s Election Day, and she is explicit in her demand that he meet her at the voting booth when he gets off work.

Much to Bud’s surprise, he is fired from his job at an egg inspection factory following one late arrival too many. He spends the rest of the work day at a local bar getting wasted. When realizing he’s late to meet his daughter, he rushes out the door only to bump his head and pass out.

Through this circumstance, Molly sneaks into a voting booth with her father’s ballot. Right when she’s about to cast the vote, the voting machine accidentally gets unplugged, causing her to flee the scene in panic. With the ballot still in the machine, a voting error is registered…thus resulting in the election coming down to the one vote.

Once word breaks out about Bud and the sudden power he has in deciding the election, he finds the outside of his trailer flooded with the news media and flashing lights. Having been the one to break the news, local reporter Kate Madison (Paula Patton) is sent down to cover the story, which she sees as a career breakthrough. To get the job done, she winds up forming a bond with Molly.

Naturally, the story attracts the attention of the two presidential candidates. Both the current President, Republican Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammer), and his Democratic challenger, Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper), arrive with their campaign teams in their attempts to persuade Bud how he should re-cast his vote. Another surprising element in the movie is that it doesn’t make one political party look better or worse than the other, in fact both candidates are presented in a likeable fashion.

As a result, Bud is invited on board Air Force One for a chat with President Boone. He is even transported to the plane in a racing car driven by Richard Petty himself. Later that night, Bud is treated to a dinner party held by the Democrats.

As a result, both candidates come up with new campaign ads involving issues they both misinterpret from Bud. These serve as the most hilarious portions of the movie. The conservative Boone winds up making a gay rights ad, while challenger Greenleaf appears in what has to be the funniest anti-abortion ad ever conceived.

Prior to watching the movie, I read several reviews and online posts from people who felt the film’s ending was a cop out. I couldn’t disagree more. It ends on an unexpected, but clever, note that conveys the entire point of the movie, which is that the vote doesn’t matter as much as Bud coming to terms that taking part in the whole process, as well as becoming a better father to his daughter, is truly what’s most important.

In the lead role, Kevin Costner is a sheer delight as the goofy but lovable loser. Of all the comedies he’s done in his career, which haven’t been that many, Costner has never been as insanely funny as he is here. His charisma is one of the guiding strengths of the movie.

The other main guiding strength is newcomer Madeline Carroll, who is absolutely irresistible as the strong-minded daughter. Her performance is without question one of the most impressive debuts I’ve seen yet from someone in her age range. She steals every scene she’s in alongside such acting vets as Costner and Stanley Tucci, whom she has a most memorable scene with.

Though it does contain some neat bits of satire in its depiction of both the political system and media feeding frenzy, Swing Vote is most successful as a simple story of the relationship between a father and daughter. As mentioned earlier, it’s very much a contemporary story with the spirit of Frank Capra in the air from beginning to end. We don’t get many movies like that these days, so it’s not hard at all to warm up to a charming movie such as this.

Video ****

Though I’ve been getting more in touch with HD lately, the superb video quality on this standard DVD release from Touchstone has reminded me that the regular format still looks tremendous. The presentation is flawless in every aspect, as the anamorphic picture excels in crisp, clean imaging and pristine bright coloring. The New Mexico setting really helps in that regard, especially in the many outdoor daytime sequences. All in all, a most fantastic looking release!

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix accompanies this mostly dialogue driven film quite nicely. Spoken words are delivered in terrifically clear form, as are the many music numbers on the soundtrack (which include a great deal of classic rock tracks). The highlight is a concert sequence where Bud himself gets on stage to jam with a band.

Features **1/2

For the most part, we get a basic line up of extras on this disc. There’s a commentary track writer/director Joshua Michael Stern and co-writer Jason Richman, as well as Deleted & Extended Scenes (with optional Director’s commentary. Also included is a featurette titled “Inside the Campaign: The Politics of Production” and a music video for the song “Hey Man What About You?” performed by Kevin Costner’s music band, Modern West. And as it turns out, Mr. Costner is actually quite a decent singer.

Summary:

Swing Vote is truly one of the bigger surprises of last year. The performances of Kevin Costner and Madeline Carroll really make this the charmer of a movie that it is. If you are in search of an uplifting piece with a touch of politics on the side, this one will indeed satisfy!

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