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Aug 8, 2008

Fletch's Film Review: Swing Vote

Just what is Swing Vote? Is it a satire on the election process and depths that presidential candidates will plunge to in order to win? Is it a character study of a New Mexican loser? Or it it a Capra-esque sap fest about the importance of the little man, giving us all an "I'm important, too!" ego boost?

As you might expect, it's kind of all of those things, bouncing merrily from one to the next, being marginally successful at all of them while never excelling (for extended stretches) at any of them.

Star Kevin Costner is right at home in the role of Earnest "Bud" Johnson, a small town New Mexican man that enjoys his Buds, fishing and NASCAR. Those who think they saw grown-up children in Step Brothers in the faces of Ferrell and Reilly will get a taste of a more real thing in Swing Vote, seeing the forty-something, divorced Bud get parented by his tween daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll, channeling not Ellen Page as so many have said, but Jena Malone) as he stumbles from bed to whatever else in an apathetic, near-drunken stupor. Though Bud loves his daughter, he never really shows that he cares about anyone other than himself.

That attitude carries into civics as well, of course. Molly, as it just so happens, is the polar opposite of Bud - she's whip smart and thinks of just about everyone but herself. But tending to her father night and day has taken a toll on her - she's his cook and alarm clock, amongst other things. When the time rolls around to vote, Molly really really really wants her father to take it seriously. Naturally, he doesn't. Very long story short - funky stuff happens and he becomes the deciding vote for the presidency.

All that setup out of the way, the movie jumps into a groove, bouncing back and forth between the two candidates - the Republican incumbent, a kind of much wiser G.W. Bush played by Kelsey Grammer and the Democratic challenger portrayed by Dennis Hopper, even given the subtle-as-a-backhand wink wink surname Greenleaf. Each also has a featured campaign manager, the former's being the underused Stanley Tucci and the latter's Nathan Lane (playing it super straight - I had the over for "number of screams" at three and would have lost easily as I didn't count a single shriek).

Most of the film's laughs come at the expense of the flip-flopping candidates, doing their best shucking and jiving to gain Bud's vote. Sacred cows are not only lampooned, but destroyed. A pro-gay rights Republican President? An anti-immigration and pro-life Democratic challenger? Anything goes as the two men, who are each so weak that they can't stand up to their managers, sell their souls and throw their respective parties under the bus until it's practically too late. Perhaps the best gags are the quickly-thrown-together campaign ads, directed only at Bud's hard-to-find moral compass, that demonstrate the flip-flops - Hopper's pro-life commercial is hilariously brilliant, and (neverminding the political view) I thought the immigration one was a well-made spot.

Unfortunately, it's around that same time that the film's main fault lies, as it tries too hard to find heroes and villains amongst its numerous cast members. The candidates? Sincere buffoons getting caught up in the hysteria and overrun by their campaigns - innocent victims of people around them that want to win more than they do. Campaign managers? Vindictive, anything-to-win narcissists (maybe this one's true). Molly? An angel. A reporter played by Paula Patton? Tempted by the dark side of fame, but the only adult that "cares" for Bud and Molly - by the time the credits rolled, I was sure the film was written and/or directed by a reporter/journalist, but it doesn't appear as though that's the case.

As for Bud, he's a fairly one-dimensional character. He floats along on his buzz for 5/6 of the film, never changing or growing one bit, and we're supposed to believe that in the span of one night, he sees the error in his ways, learns the importance of voting, becomes a better father, cures polio (again) and cancer, saves the whales and decides the presidency. Though, like Lions for Lambs, the film has a strong, clear, important message, and that's enough to forgive a few of the errors along the way.

Fletch's Film Rating:

"Darn tootin!"


Some final, unrelated thoughts:

* The soundtrack is full of some (still good) songs you might expect like Willie Nelson's "Always On My Mind" (Bud plays in a Willie tribute band) and The Marshall Tucker Band's "Can't You See," but also includes a terrific Moby B-side ("Flower") and a beautiful song from former Pink Floyd member David Gilmour ("Murder"). I was pleasantly surprised to hear both, as neither fits into the demographic of the film's characters or setting.

* We have a Judge Reinhold sighting! I've never understood why his career hit the brakes, and I don't think I'd seen him since a one-episode stint on Arrested Development (hosting a Judge Judy-like show - brilliant, of course), but he has a decent sized role here as one of Bud's eggery co-workers and friends.


11 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review: Swing Vote"

Pat said...

Great review, Fletch! I liked it a bit better than you did, but I still thought you made some excellent points. And I'm glad you mentioned the soundtrack, because that was another thing I really liked about "Swing Vote." (And it took me awhile to recognize Judge Reinhold, but, yeah, it was great seeing him, too.)

Pat said...

Great review, Fletch! I liked it a bit better than you did, but I still thought you made some excellent points. And I'm glad you mentioned the soundtrack, because that was another thing I really liked about "Swing Vote." (And it took me awhile to recognize Judge Reinhold, but, yeah, it was great seeing him, too.)

Pat said...

Whoops - I hate it when I hit the "publish" button twice!

Fletch said...

No worries, Pat. I do the same thing on occasion.

Yes, I wouldn't give it a 5/5 or anything, but I have to say that I enjoyed it.

Dead Pan said...

I have yet to see this, but am moderately interested.

I think this is one of the best reviews I have read of yours. It seems to concise and to the point while truly painting the picture of what I am to see without really giving anything away. Practically a perfect review.

Fletch said...

Shawn - Muchas gracias, mi amigo. I don't think reviews are my strong point, so I really appreciate that.

Ms☆Go said...

wait.

You SAW this??

AND you thought...it was good??

huh.

Fox said...

I like this observation:

"Those who think they saw grown-up children in Step Brothers in the faces of Ferrell and Reilly will get a taste of a more real thing in Swing Vote, seeing the forty-something, divorced Bud get parented by his tween daughter Molly"

And I second Pat on the "great review" nod!

virtual office space said...

In its relentless sermonizing about voting, the movie treats the audience like we're Bud Johnson--who the movie also calls a 'dumbass.'

Diesel said...

That movie looks like a turd. I don't care what you say, I'm not seeing it.

Fletch said...

Fox - thanks!

Ms. Go, OfficeSpace, and Diesel - by no means is it a great movie, but it has its moments. No need to rush out or anything, but it's worth a rental.