There is a contingent of the world's population (perhaps a large contingent) that thinks the average American voter is less than intelligent. There is another contingent of the world's population that thinks the average American politician is less than intelligent (these contingents definitely have some overlap). Kevin Costner's latest movie, Swing Vote, explores both these ideas, with about as much success as the average American politician.
That is to say, depending on how you see the movie it is either a crashing success or a terrible bore. If one wants wit, depth, and an actual exploration of politics and the population's relationship to elections one will be exceedingly disappointed with the film. If one wants little more than silly platitudes and an uplifting ending complete with an eleventh hour-turnaround by the main character, one couldn't ask for more.
Swing Vote follows Bud Johnson (Costner) and his daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll) as Bud finds himself at the center of a firestorm in a contested presidential election. Bud is left with making the final decision on who will become the next president – the incumbent, Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammer) or the Democratic challenger, Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper).
How exactly it all came down to Bud's decision, is a little up in the air. Molly ends up voting in Bud's name, but the electronic voting machine gets unplugged halfway through and ends up registering an error. The election overall is terribly close and New Mexico (Bud's state of residence) is undecided. Apparently New Mexico is undecided because one county is undecided and one county is undecided because one city, Texico (Bud's city) is undecided, and apparently Texico is undecided because Bud's vote didn't register.
Not only is the notion foolish, but it is entirely impossible for the election to come to that point. And that, sadly, helps destroy the entire movie. “Suspension of disbelief” doesn't allow one to go quite that far, particularly when this is supposed to be a down to earth story about regular people making a difference. Essentially then the movie's statement is that the average person can make a difference, but only when the system goes horribly awry in a completely fictional way; anything short of an imaginary break in the system render's the importance of the individual null and void. Clearly not the message the movie is going for, but the one that it delivers nonetheless.
From that point, the film gets exceptionally foolish, with the candidates heading to Texico, New Mexico in order to pander to Bud and his every whim. The promises they make Bud fly in the face of everything their respective parties stand for, but they're constantly pushed by their respective advisors, played by Nathan Lane and Stanley Tucci, to do it anyway.
The point of it all is to lampoon the political process and politicians while also – as mentioned above – showing the importance of the individual. Technically, I suppose, the film is supposed to be funny. Just as with showing the importance of the individual however, Swing Vote completely fails in its attempts at humor. It has a great, very funny cast, and many cameos, but those apparently exist as a substitute for scripting humor into the work.
Make no mistake, Swing Vote's notion that individuals should vote and be well informed is both good and accurate, it just illustrates the point in a lackluster fashion. Most of the actors end up coming off as unfunny caricatures, and while Carroll is often very good, she does have some trouble expressing the upset and anger necessary for her role.
The extras on the Blu-ray are just as predictable as Bud's phenomenal turnaround from uninformed lout to caring voter. Included are a behind-the-scenes look at the production, deleted and extended scenes and a commentary with writer/director Joshua Michael Stern and writer Jason Richman.
Presumably anyone that owns a Blu-ray player that wishes to have a copy of the film in their possession at all times will go out and buy Swing Vote on Blu-ray instead of in regular DVD format (I know I would). However, there is nothing that truly stands out in the transfer either in terms of sound or video. There is nothing to truly complain about in the transfer either, in fact, much like the film, it all just sort of exists and remains wholly forgettable.
In the end, Swing Vote has a truly talented cast full of both excellent comedic and dramatic actors. They are however, hampered by a script that sets in motion a ludicrous idea and then is never quite sure where to go with the story except for all the obvious places. A segment of the population will certainly find the movie charming because their love of both Costner and Carroll's smile and heart along with the final intended message will be enough. Those people may also be the ones however for whom campaign promises mean more than actual actions once in office.
Swing Vote makes for a great 30 second spot, promising everything anyone could ever hope for in a movie, it just fails to deliver once you've shelled out your money.