Genre: Comedy, Drama
by: Joshua Michael Stern
Starring: Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Kelsey Grammer, Paula Patton, Stanley Tucci, George Lopez, Madeline Carroll
Released by: Touchstone Pictures
Short: A political satire that underestimates politics and squanders the satire.
Swing and a Miss
Lofty Aspirations with Little to Back Them Up
The interesting conundrum presented to a freelance critic by Swing Vote is that it literally forces you to question whether you really meant it when you once told a friend "you couldn't pay me to watch another Kevin Costner movie." Though he'll always find some fans among suburban-boomer mothers, most of the country drastically cooled on Costner following ego-driven debacles like The Postman and Waterworld, giving every one of his subsequent starring roles the faint whiff of "come-back attempt."
Swing Vote is unlikely to do much to rectify that, being little more than heavily distilled political satire that wavers between parody and pathos so often, it's practically baiting reviewers to write "flip-flop" jokes. The story follows unlikable protagonist "Bud," who is poised to cast the deciding vote in a presidential election after a series of absurd plot developments. In case you were wondering, his name does indeed facilitate eventual Budweiser product placement.
There's barely an original conceit to be found, including the parade of broad stereotypes making up its cast of characters, all of whom are played by barely tolerable (Kelsey Grammer, Nathan Lane) or oddly miscast (Dennis Hopper) actors. In fact, the most surprising performance is from Costner himself, who manages to wring out some the film's few laughs by admirably utilizing his innate ability to project ignorance. On purpose, one hopes.
The film's real crime, however, is feeling so trite and predictable in an election year that, for many, will be one of the most historic and electrifying of their lives. Anyone with a working knowledge of our political system will recognize the unfolding story arc as naïve at best, which makes the finale's attempt at emotional, civic relevance play so limply. Not even the final swelling of a West Wing-esque violin orchestra is enough to make the audience care that a dull, alcoholic deadbeat has finally figured out that choosing the President of the United States might be a decision worth taking seriously.
Reviewed by Matt Kane