Kevin Costner has two basic settings. There’s epic Kevin, a crusader out for justice or peace or some such. See “Robin Hood Prince of Thieves,” “Wyatt Earp,” and “Waterworld” for examples of epic Kev at work.
Then there’s down-home Kevin, a low-key rake who gets by on his wits and prefers sipping brews to spreading justice. See: “Tin Cup,” “Bull Durham” and “Field of Dreams” for this brand of humble star.
Mr. Costner’s latest on-screen incarnation, Bud Johnson, is firmly ensconced in the latter camp. In between shots of bourbon and bottles of his namesake, Bud’s white, working-class patois is perfectly honed - he’s rough around the edges and has a fondness for cursing, but he’s just trying to do right by his family.
While he’s busy raising his socially conscious, stereotypically spunky daughter, Molly (Madeline Carroll) all by his lonesome, a series of unlikely events leads to Bud becoming the ultimate swing voter: A voting machine’s malfunction has left the outcome of the presidential race squarely on his red neck.
Bud isn’t exactly a model citizen. Given 10 days to figure out how he should vote, he chooses to spend the time being wooed by presidents and pop stars instead of hitting the books and figuring out who has the best policies.
Yet his vote will choose the next leader of the free world. What a great country!
Or not. “Swing Vote” spends much of its overly long running time wallowing in the sadder aspects of contemporary American society.
First, there are the craven, spineless politicians: incumbent Dennis Hopper). Because this is a mainstream film and not a partisan screed, both sides take their lumps evenly - the pandering stooped to by the candidates is cynical and kind of depressing, albeit funny (especially the campaign ads aimed directly at Bud).
Leaving the politicians aside, however, America itself is a hollow mess. Layoffs run rampant; storefronts proclaim that the businesses within are closing; nothing even approaching a happy family, nuclear or otherwise, nears the screen.
“Swing Vote” comes especially close to derailing when Molly runs off to find her absent mother - and the result of her search isn’t exactly heartwarming.
In the end, “Swing Vote” isn’t sure what kind of film it wants to be. It hectors us on the wonders of voting like a cranky civics teacher but treats the political process like a corrupt freak show. It marvels at the riches of the American spirit but focuses on the gutted, broken portion of its citizenry. It preaches the importance of family but offers redemption of its failed father only by default.
“Swing Vote” seems to be suggesting that the voter deserves a better class of candidate; allow me to suggest that the viewer deserves a better class of film.
TITLE: “Swing Vote”
RATING: PG-13 (for language)
CREDITS: Directed by Joshua Michael Stern
RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes
WEB SITE: https://swingvote.movies.go.com
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS