Swing Vote

Do American movies always have to reduce macro real-politics to the micro interpersonal level Can there be for a change a political comedy or dramedy without family issues, such as intergenerational strife, irresponsible parents needing to redeem themselves and feel closer to their offsprings

“Swing Vote,” directed by Joshua Michael Stern and co-written by Jason Richman and him, can be called “Mr. Johnson Goes to Washington”–or rather Kevin Costner doing soft politics. More than anything else, the movie is a vehicle for Costner, who put his own money into this modestly-budgeted production (around $20 million).

Numerous directors and writers have tried to update the Frank Capra's political comedies and dramedies of the Depression era (“Mr. Dees Goes to Town” with Gary Cooper, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” with Jimmy Stewart) and yet few have succeeded, in large part due to the changing political climate and the growing cynicism of the American populace.

Though we are in the midst of an election year, in which younger voters are seemingly more interested than ever before in social issues and in the political process, I doubt whether they would embrace an old-fashioned tale that wears its heart and ideology on its sleeves.

Costner, who was one of the biggest movie stars in the 1980s, in films like “The Untouchables,” “Field of Dreams,” “Bull Durham,” has been trying to reinvent himself. To a large degree has succeeded when he plays secondary or character parts, such as his recent turns in “Upside of Anger,” or in ensemble pieces like “Thirteen Days.”

On some level, he is a living proof that with time and practice, any actor can improve his skills. And now that he's in his 50s and doesn't care about his looks, he seems freer and more liberated on screen than 20 years ago. In 1990, when Costner “dared” to make a film about an issue he cared about, “Dancing With Wolves,” he was dismissed by the more cerebral critics as pretentious and overreaching. Pauline Kael described him in the New Yorker as “Orson Welles without the belly.”

In “Swing Vote,” Costner plays Bud Johnson, a lovable, irascible slob, a loser who likes to drink and doesn't care if his young daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll) hears him swearing or sees him unshaven and hung-over. At middle-age, Bud has been coasting through a life that has nearly passed him by. The only bright spot in his existence is his precocious, overachieving 12-year-old daughter who, in a role reversal, takes care of both of them.

Things change due to one mischievous moment on Election Day, when Molly accidentally sets off a chain of events, which culminates in the election coming down to one vote-that of her father.

Like most of these yarns, the movie unfolds as a “social-psychological journey” of a father and daughter, who learn a few lessons in democracy, such as the value of personal power, or that each and every individual counts and can contribute towards changing the world.

What saves the feature from predictability and boredom is the secondary illustrious cast. Kelsey Grammer plays Republican incumbent President Andrew Boone, Dennis Hopper is the Democratic hopeful Donald Greenleaf, Nathan Lane portrays Art Crumb, Greenleaf's Democratic campaign manager who has lost seven elections, and Stanley Tucci is cast as Martin Fox, the slick campaign manager to the Republican President.

For romantic interest, we have the up-and-coming star Paula Patton, who plays the small-town TV reporter Kate Madison, a femme with aspirations for a big-time network news job. Rounding out the ensemble is TV's George Lopez as her boss John Sweeney, who manages the local Texico, New Mexico, TV station.

The movie is not only soft and muddled but shallow, and it's hard not to notice that it deals with the “hot” issues of ecology and the environment, abortion and gay marriage, but neglects the one problem that's on everybody's mind these daysnational and personal security, or terrorism. Were the filmmakers afraid to take a stance

In this picture, Costner served as star, producer, and also provided some of the music. The country-western soundtrack includes two songs by his band, Modern West.

For the Record

Numerous real-life celebs and actor-friends of Costner's pop up and you'll find yourself spotting the likes of Charles “Chip” Esten, Richard Petty, Mare Winningham, Mark Moses, Nana Visitor, Richard Petty, Willie Nelson, Tony Blankley, Aaron Brown, Campbell Brown, Tucker Carlson, James Carville, Matt Frei, Mary Hart, Ariana Huffington, Larry King, Anne Kornblut, Bill Maher, Chris Matthews, Lawrence O'Donnell.


Bud Johnson – Kevin Costner
Kate Madison – Paula Patton
President Andrew Boone – Kelsey Grammer
Donald Greenleaf – Dennis Hopper
Art Crumb – Nathan Lane
Martin Fox – Stanley Tucci
John Sweeney – George Lopez
Molly Johnson – Madeline Carroll


A Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release of a Touchstone Pictures presentation, in association with Radar Pictures and 1821 Pictures, of a Treehouse Films production. Produced by Jim Wilson, Kevin Costner.
Executive producers, Robin Jonas, Ted Field, Terry Dougas, Paris Kasidokostas Latsis. Directed by Joshua Michael Stern.
Screenplay, Jason Richman, Stern.
Camera: Shane Hurlbut.
Editor: Jeff McEvoy.
Music: John Debney.
Production designer, Steve Saklad.
Art director: Mark Zuelzke,
Set designers: John Berger, Amahl H. Lovato; set decorator, Marcia Calosio.
Costume designer: Lisa Jensen.
Sound: Matthew Nicolay.
Sound designer: Emile Razpopov; supervising sound editor, Dessie Markovsky; re-recording mixers, Alex Gruzdev, Andy Snavley.
Visual effects supervisor: Mark Dornfeld.
Visual effects, Custom Film Effects.

MPAA Rating: PG-13.
Running time: 120 Minutes.