Review: Swing Vote

Swing Vote is yet another one of these movies that I would never have rented and probably have never watched but I am nonetheless reviewing. Why? Because when you are on a five-hour flight and this is what they offer, it’s what you watch. In addition, if you expect to have a busy week in Arizona, a quick movie review lets you get out a blog entry without investing too much time.

The movie is at least topical, with an election just three weeks away. In this movie, an incumbent Republican President Boone (Kelsey Grammer) is running for a second term is in a close reelection contest with liberal Senator Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper) from New England. It just so happens that the electoral vote is tied 270-270, with New Mexico being the swing state. New Mexico though it precisely tied, with exactly one vote in dispute.

The vote belongs to Bud Johnson, played by Kevin Costner. Bud is frankly a wreck of a man who also comes with the baggage being a mostly mentally absentee father. He lives in the hitherto unknown town of Houston, New Mexico in a trailer with his prepubescent daughter Molly played by Madeline Carroll. Molly would prefer to live with her estranged mother, who is even more of a wreck than her father is. Molly though is an unusually smart and perceptive girl. She tries to persuade her father to vote, but voting is the farthest thing from his mind. Color him politically apathetic.

On voting day, Molly waits for her father to pick her up after school. Bud is a bit distracted from losing his job at the egg packaging plant and elects to get drunk instead. For some reason Molly thinks that he may be late because he went to vote instead. When she checks out the polling station, she finds it empty with just one sleeping poll worker in attendance. So she surreptitiously attempts to vote for her father. However, the electricity is cut off in the middle of her voting attempt. That is why the vote is in dispute.

Costner does a decent job of portraying a born loser with a happy go lucky attitude, which at least is a much different kind of part for him. Politics though is the farthest thing from Bud’s mind, which is why when some people from the Board of Elections accost him, he is surprised. He is too drunk though to answer coherently, so his daughter assists. For some reason election officials decide to wait ten days before he will recast his ballot and thus select the next President of the United States. Bud’s identity eventually becomes known, thanks to an intrepid and cute local TV news reporter played by Paula Patton.

With the leadership of the free world at state, President Boone and Senator Greenleaf and their staffs relocate to New Mexico with the sole duty of trying to persuade Bud to vote for them. Bud’s likes and dislikes quickly are probed and analyzed, but essentially Bud is too drunk and incoherent to give much in the way of thought about weighty national issues. He soon finds hundreds of people and press camped outside his trailer day and night, as well as stacks of mail from ordinary Americans pleading for him to vote for their preferred candidate.

So the movie veers between light comedy and an uncomfortably intimate portrait of a dysfunctional man and his daughter. If there is a star to this movie though it is not lead Kevin Costner, but Madeline Carroll, whose portrayal of Molly Johnson is startling for its maturity and quality. There is little meat to this movie although it has its moments of poignancy. You have better uses of your time than to rent this movie, but if you see it nonetheless you may find a few endearing qualities that make it not a complete waste of your time.

2.8 on my 4.0 scale.

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