Kevin Costner and Madeline Carroll look how I feel about Swing Vote

As a part of the Disney machine, Touchstone Pictures serves a niche. It either makes whip-ass Jerry Bruckheimer action movies, or it makes grown-up light dramedies like Dan in Real Life. The latest release from this branch of the Mouse House, in the latter style, is Kevin Costner’s new film, Swing Vote.

In this film, Costner plays a somewhat down-and-out, disenfranchised voter name Bud, living in the small town of Texico, New Mexico. His daughter, played by the vibrant and precocious Madeline Carroll, is more aware of global politics than he is, and she not only registers to vote but sneaks into the voting booth for him on election day.

Later, Bud finds out that his ballot didn’t get counted, and due to New Mexico law, he’s entitled to re-cast his vote. The catch is that the Presidential race has an outcome similar to the one in 2000, and Bud’s vote will ultimately determine who will hold the highest office in the land. Soon, Bud becomes a celebrity, and his daughter tries to keep him grounded while he plans to make the most important decision of his life.

I’ll admit that the premise of this film is intriguing, but it had some serious problems in its execution. The hardest part about making a movie like this is to resist the urge to preach. For the most part, the filmmakers did so, but when they stumbled, they preached hard. The majority of the film is a light-hearted comedy, but there are political posturing about everything from global warming to health care dropped in.

In the end, Swing Vote becomes its own worst enemy because it tries to give us an unrealistic view of the world in which everyone is ultimately honorable and good-hearted. I guess that being a cynical bastard like myself, I just couldn’t swallow the plot, which makes both candidates out to be simple, good people and ignores the overwhelming presence of kooks on both sides of the aisle that would have made Bud’s life as ugly as could be.

If you like these sort of heartwarming films with Costner playing his Tin Cup/Bull Durham character throughout, you’ll enjoy this. But I just couldn’t buy the film’s faith in the human spirit. The message is all-too-clear (i.e., get out and vote), and the film cops out in the end after painting itself in a corner.

The cast is superb, at least, so there are few moments that don’t work from an acting standpoint. At the very least, with the screen populated with Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Hopper, Nathan Lane and Stanley Tucci, the movie’s not entirely bad.

As Bud’s daughter Molly, Madeline Carroll is sweet and really shines in the film. Unfortunately she isn’t given a lot to work with. While her acting is great, her character is shoe-horned in, bringing the movie down into depression with her pining over her lost mother and showing frustration with her father’s disinterest in politics.

The unfortunate thing about Carroll is that while she’s a good actor, she’s also a virtual photo double for Abigail Breslin. The movie left me thinking whether this girl is going to be able to overcome the comparison to be taken seriously.

Hands-down, the best part of the film are the flurry of campaign ads we see in the middle in which the candidates abandon their political convictions to woo Bud. If only the entire film had this cynical, sarcastic feel to it. It led me to believe that if this had been a pet project of Trey Parker and Matt Stone rather than Kevin Costner.

THE UPSIDE: Some of the funniest fake campaign commercials you will see all year.

THE DOWNSIDE: Just couldn’t resist some preaching.

ONE THE SIDE: This is one film that Larry the Cable Guy could have improved in the leading role.

Grade: D+


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