Will a complacent America that doesn’t vote show up for a comic civics lesson about that complacency?
If they miss “Swing Vote,” they’ll miss a feel-good film that, at its best, is “fair and balanced” – and funny.
And if they don’t vote? We all know the consequences of that.
Those old Frank Capra movies – “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” for example – were anchored in faith that the common sense of Joe Average, the American public, would preserve our republic.
“Swing Vote” sees that Joe Average has degenerated into Joe Sixpack. And if we fret about the state of the nation, it’s because guys such as Ernie “Bud” Johnson either aren’t voting or are so clueless when they do that they pick “the fella I’d like to sit and have a beer with.”
Kevin Costner stars as Bud, a blue-collar boozer who has spent his whole life in Texico, N.M. He boozes on his dead-end job at the egg-packing plant, a job he may lose not just because of “in-sourcing,” his employer’s hiring of illegal immigrants.
The one saving grace in his trailer-park life is his daughter, Molly (newcomer Madeline Carroll), a bright 11-year old who is the adult in the family. Molly is the star of her civics class, a kid whose essay on how complacency leads to tyranny landed her on the local TV news. Bud can’t even be bothered to vote on election day, even when Molly needs his ballot receipt for a class project.
“Bud,” she tells him, “screw this up and I’m leaving you.”
And wouldn’t you know it, that happens to be the one botched ballot that will decide who will be president – the fear-mongering Republican incumbent (Kelsey Grammer, well cast) or the tree-hugging liberal Democrat (Dennis Hopper).
When Bud sobers up, all heck has broken out and all of America is at his trailer door. He has to recast the ballot. And his vote will change history.
“Remind me agin who’s runnin’?” he asks.
There’s a scheming TV producer (George Lopez), scheming campaign managers (Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane) and assorted drinking buddies (Judge Reinhold, etc.) who want to know how Bud will vote.
The Republicans bring in Richard Petty. The Democrats trot out Willie Nelson. All to win over a guy whose every opinion is now the only opinion that matters.
They ask him about abortion. He bungles the answer, and the Democrat morphs into an anti-abortion creationist.
He’s no tree-hugger, but, boy, let Republican donors endanger Bud’s favorite fishing hole, and the Republican president names it a wildlife refuge.
Gay marriage? Immigration? Go see the movie.
Costner lets it all hang out in this performance. Bud sings in a Willie Nelson tribute band. He wears his Bass Pro cap like the very picture of the NASCAR dad.
It’s too preachy in the end, too profane to be family friendly, a little too soft to be edgy. But “Swing Vote” nicely boils down America’s political malaise to one man’s awakening from a Budweiser stupor and seeing the only thing that matters when you don’t pay attention and exercise the franchise on election day.
You’re letting your kid down.
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