July 31, 2008

Swing Vote

If this is actually"The Postman 2," I'm calling my agent.

Grade: C +

Director: Joshua Michael Stern

Starring: Kevin Costner, Madeline Carroll, Paula Patton, Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Hopper, Stanley Tucci, and Nathan Lane

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 2 hours

Back when Frank Capra was making movies, the issue of voter disenfranchisement was still an insidious, unresolved blight on the American electoral system. While strategic voter suppression remains a campaign tactic wielded by the power-hungry, gone are the days of literacy tests and poll taxes, to say nothing of outright bans against African-American and women’s suffrage.

The Capra-esque patina coating
Swing Vote encompasses the best and worst qualities of the descriptor. It is a cockeyed confection about the importance of the everyman, particularly as compared to the social and political elite. More than our system of government, it celebrates the role of the individual in that system. On the other hand, the film is both cornpone and confused, attempting to appeal to all sides by trying hard to not take a stand. It lampoons an electoral system plagued with pundits and platitudes by cramming an abundance of both down our throats, all set to John Debney’s cloying musical swells. Seriously, would someone please declare a moratorium on cameos by Larry King, James Carville, and any other infotainment celebrity?

Boozy buffoon Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner) lives in Texico, New Mexico, a time-warp where Dennis Hopper, Kelsey Grammer, and Judge Reinhold can still find work (did anyone consider the risks of reuniting the costars from
Waterworld?). Bud wiles away his days working at the local egg-packing plant and being cared for by his precocious, 12-year-old daughter, Molly (Madeline Carroll). Molly wants her father to vote in the upcoming presidential election, while Bud just wants to drown his troubles away at the local bar. When Molly tries to cast Bud’s vote for him, a voting machine malfunction fails to count Bud’s ballot. Ultimately, New Mexico’s 5 electoral votes end up determining the winner of national election, and, most improbably, the state’s overall popular tally is a dead-heat. So, Bud’s uncounted, uninformed vote will determine the presidency.

Swing Vote works best when showcasing the media circus that descends upon Bud’s single-wide dust bowl during the overly-protracted 10-day prelude to Bud’s re-vote. A carnival atmosphere takes hold of Texico, along with the candidates themselves, Republican President Andrew Boone (Grammer) and Democratic Senator Donald Greenleaf (Hopper). Writer-director Joshua Michael Stern regales in skewering the phoniness of retail politics, contriving circumstances that lead both campaigns to blindly bend to Bud’s every sound-bite: the conservative Boone goes green and endorses gay marriage, while limousine liberal Greenleaf cuts commercials opposing illegal immigration and abortion.

Still, while Molly is the film’s purported moral center, it is difficult to escape the fact that her keen sense of civic duty and patriotism culminates with voter fraud, together with a local television reporter (Paula Patton) who supposedly recaptures her journalistic idealism by helping perpetuate that fraud. Moreover,
Swing Vote ultimately takes the position that the most important element in our electoral process is not deciphering the differences between candidates or their platforms, but rather the mere privilege of being able to exercise that choice. It is a sentiment that might have held more sway back in Capra’s heyday. However, history – both distant and recent – would respectfully disagree.

Neil Morris


Anonymous said...

The only reason I want to see this film is because of Dennis Hopper. Mr. Hopper as president. Yes please! I mean I already have him telling me what to do in my car. I just got his voice from Navtones.com where you can download celebrity voices to your GPS.
I hope Dennis Hopper wins the swing vote and we all get to live in an Easy Rider world!

Anonymous said...

During Jury election last week a prospective juror said, "Well, I know this is my civic duty, and I just saw "Swing Vote" this weekend, I suggest everyone see it"

He was obviously a Costner fan...Didnt make the jury.

Whats up with a Tropic Thunder Review? I