Movie review: Swing Vote one and one-half star | August 8, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - August 8, 2008

Movie review: Swing Vote one and one-half star

Rating: PG-13 for language Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

Kevin Costner can make hearts flutter painting toenails in "Bull Durham" or giving butterfly kisses to a child in "The Untouchables." He has portrayed tough-minded heroes, soft-voiced family men and colorful characters across a wide swath of genres - Westerns, thrillers, romantic comedies, sci fi and sports films. But playing a beer-swilling, out-of-work American loser in very broad strokes doesn't play well at all. Director Joshua Michael Stern ("Neverwas") should have told the producer-actor to tone his comic performance down.

To say this political comedy isn't particularly funny ignores the elephant in the room: the wrong-headed premise at the movie's core. That's not to be confused with its absurd premise. As with much fiction, viewers can suspend their disbelief and swallow the silly notion that a United States presidential election hangs by a hair - by a single vote. Due to a voting machine malfunction, Bud Johnson (Costner) must recast his vote in 10 days, an historical event by which one American will determine the leader of the free world.

Discussing the wrong-headed premise - a shockingly disingenuous one - is difficult without giving away the plot. Screenwriters Jason Richmond and Stern tried to fashion a feel-good, Capra-esque story about civic responsibility. Every American should carefully consider the issues and vote for the political candidate of choice. Every vote counts.

Let's just say that "Swing Vote" should be retitled "Voter Fraud." The film celebrates the intent to commit a felony and media complicity in doing so. Following the lead of recent Hollywood releases ranging from "Charlie Wilson's War" to "Wanted," the movie completely ignores the moral and legal bankruptcy at the narrative's center. Worse yet, these films glamorize and validate their protagonists as doing the right thing instead of the reprehensible. And in this case, Johnson becomes the role model for his precocious 12-year-old daughter (Madeline Carroll delivering the most natural and best performance in the film).

Depictions of the spineless presidential hopefuls (Kelsey Grammer and Dennis Hopper) and their campaign managers (Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane, respectively) offer standard-issue political satire. Except for the ethnically diverse casting of Paula Patton and George Lopez as local television-station professionals, the media circus surrounding the unfolding events in Texico, New Mexico, relies on stereotypes, too.

Cameos by media personalities and political commentators abound. Aaron Brown, Tucker Carlson, James Carville, Arianna Huffington, Larry King, Chris Matthews and others look so pleased to be in a feature film that one wonders if they read the script. Ultimately, their participation in a cinematic sham about democratic principles makes them appear as stupid as Bud Johnson, the man they initially deride as looking like a rodeo clown.

--Susan Tavernetti

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