Swing Vote (2008)

If not for the outrageous, unlikely events that took place in Florida in 2000 -- the events that put the current occupant in the White House -- the outlandish, unlikely events in *Swing Vote* might seem like so much high concept Hollywood nonsense. But darned if reality didn't go and make a movie about the presidential election coming down to a single vote and a single voter seem, well, actually plausible. Make that voter an uninformed, undecided, working class single dad named Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner), who apparently got his nickname from his favorite beverage. Add ravenous reporters, jabbering pundits, win-at-all-costs campaign directors, and a couple of presidential candidates willing to say anything to win, and you've got *Swing Vote*, a soft-boiled political satire about a guy who works in an egg factory holding the fate of the free world in his boozy hands.

Luckily, Bud's chief advisor is his daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll) who, although she is only twelve, is a civic-minded young liberal who firmly believes in the sanctity of the vote. Which is how she almost commits voter fraud when Bud passes out drunk, which, one electronic voting machine malfunction later, is how the presidential election comes down to Bud's vote, or revote. Bud, being the soul of discretion, lets it slip that he's the every-vote-counts guy when an ambitious reporter (Paula Patton) corners him, which is how every news network ends up camped out in tiny Texico, NM, and how president Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammer) comes to park Air Force One there. His Democratic opponent Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper) turns up too, both men trying strenuously to court Bud's vote. Problem is, Bud doesn't really have any opinions on the issues of the day, having tuned out and stopped caring years ago, and so the candidates wind up jumping through hoops of absurdity trying to win the vote of a guy who doesn't really know the difference between them. Ah, but there's the rub -- maybe the current political process grinds all the difference away.

Costner's Bud doesn't do much besides drink, although he does try not to disappoint his daughter Molly. He wears cutoff shirts and a grubby trucker's cap, and he'd rather go fishing than look for a job. Costner has played the laid back, middle aged shlub before, and he's good at it, and anything that keeps him from making a sequel to *The Postman* gets my vote. *Swing Vote* throws a little falling-down-drunk slapstick his way too. Carroll is terrific as Molly, playing the soul and conscience of the movie, and the brains of the Johnson outfit, and embodying the little d democratic ideal with a furrowed brow and the fierce conviction of a tween.

Director Joshua Michael Stern, who co-wrote *Swing Vote* with Jason Richman, sprinkles the movie with satirical faux political ads in which the Republican comes out in favor of gay marriage and the Democrat takes anti-abortion and anti-immigration stances. Their political advisors are played equally broadly by Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane. If the politicians are spineless, their advisors are without conscience or conviction. As often happens of late, the movie blurs the line between reality and entertainment (much like the news networks do) by featuring cameos by celebu-pundits and info-tainers: Ariana Huffington, Aaron Brown, Bill Maher, James Carville, Larry King, Tucker Carlson, and Chris Matthews all turn up. To remind everyone that Bud's a good ole boy, Richard Petty and Willie Nelson make appearances too. (Bud used to front a Willie Nelson cover band, which gives a hint at where his political sympathies, such as they are, really lie.)

*Swing Vote* is hardly subtle satire, and it takes swings at only the biggest, most obvious targets, but it's bipartisan about it, taking shots at both sides pretty much equally. This is not to say that the movie doesn't have an agenda -- it does, although it takes pains to not be too obvious about it, at the risk of being as spineless as a presidential candidate. *Swing Vote* is a Capraesque, populist political farce that's eager to please, and somewhat hesitant to offend, which takes the sting out of the satire, and leaves only a modestly funny comedy.