½*/**** Image A Sound A Extras D
starring Kevin Costner, Paula Patton, Kelsey Grammer, Madeline Carroll
screenplay by Jason Richman & Joshua Michael Stern
directed by Joshua Michael Stern
by Walter Chaw Another simple-minded liberal screed that does more harm to the liberal cause than the whole of Fox News could possibly dream, this salvo from the left positions itself as a wagging finger to the non-voters of the United States--so long as those non-voters are earnest (literally: the hero of the piece is named Ernest) and have precocious, politically-savvy preteen daughters. Yes, it's the Homer and Lisa Simpson dyad reproduced with Kevin Costner and Abigail Breslin 2.0 Madeline Carroll. This year's Man of the Year, Swing Vote is the kind of lefty pinko wet blanket that can't take a stand without providing narration for it, until finally it reveals itself as a public-service announcement for the sanctity of casting a vote that's properly counted. Hooray, Constitution! This doesn't preclude a few potshots at the press, natch--take that, stupid First Amendment! Every scene of the film is an exclamation point delivered from atop a worst-of-Capra soapbox; those bemoaning that they don't make 'em like they used to, take a big, heaving bite of Swing Vote, compared to which the Pollyannaism of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington reads like P.J. O'Rourke snark. Maybe it's better to see the picture as a scary-prescient prediction of what would happen if someone like Ernest were not only tasked with choosing the next President of the United States, but moreover tabbed as the vice-presidential nominee of a major candidate. Think of Swing Vote as the mother-loving Sarah Palin story and suddenly the movie's every bit the frightening satirical comedy it wasn't upon initial release.
Ernest (Costner), a.k.a. "Bud," gets drunk on Election Day, necessitating a lot of hilarious misadventure involving little Molly (Carroll) submitting a ballot on his behalf. What should happen but one of the bumpkins running the polling station in bumfuck Texico, NM trips the power and Bud's social contract goes unfulfilled. Heavens. So in an unusually close election that gives pundits like Chris Matthews and Larry King the opportunity to be in a real live movie, it turns out that Bud's uncounted vote is destined to be the deciding factor in the race, leading the candidates to fly out to lil' ol' Texico to lobby him in person. Better for the film to be about how an alcoholic prone to drinking binges, who lets his child drive and pulls her out of class to take her fishing, is allowed to keep his daughter, but no matter. The love interest is local reporter Kate (Paula Patton), who discovers the secret of course and, along with Molly, represents the moral conscience of a picture desperate to have something to say beyond the absolutely ordinary revelation that politicians are not well-liked or respected for a reason and that a lot of voters shouldn't be allowed to pick out a shirt, much less play a role in deciding who will hold the most powerful office in the world. Because Swing Vote isn't the kind of movie that has the balls to follow through on just letting the racist, ignorant, incurious little cancer vote his upbringing, Ernest spends the last ten minutes of the film cramming basic civics into his head like he was about to be interviewed by hard-hitting journalist Katie Couric--and making what we can only guess is a reasonable decision based on information and ethical grounding.
A late-game press conference has Ernest saying, "From what I've read, I know that I've scared the hell out of America," which is also the moment where what the film tries to be about (the depths to which a person will go to be elected) becomes, through the Palin prism, what the film is actually about. Ignore the ridiculous contortions of incumbent GOP ogre stooge Boone (Kelsey Grammer) and his tree-hugging, fetus-killing counterpart Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper) and see in the election of Obama--despite the near-impossibility of same--the truth that a guy like Ernest, at his core, is someone a majority of Americans are coming to realize we should fear. It's not the Georgetown cocktail-party conservatives but the goobers in their trailers who think Obama's an Arab (and/or the literal Antichrist) and find a way to justify their lot by salving their fear with their awful, blinkered interpretation of fundamentalist faith. There are a lot of reasons not to vote for Obama, and not a one of them involves him being a Muslim terrorist. Alaskan Governor's mansion/mud hut in Afghanistan: fundamentalist wackos without curiosity and burdened with a surplus of entitlement are the exact reason we're at five minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock. Swing Vote suggests that a few hours of cramming is enough--our brief run-in with Palin confirms that it's not.
And that's why Swing Vote is garbage. Given the way things were going, given that the eventual election of Idiocracy's Professional Wrestler in Chief looked to be a foregone conclusion, given that a lot of us already believed we were on the greased chute to Armageddon, it's easy to see why people spilled onto the streets because of the results of something so easy for us to ignore for so long as the American presidential election. What recent history has proven is that even though people are stupid enough to want someone they'd invite to a barbecue as their President, they're not also stupid enough to continue to want it while they're losing their jobs and pensions to the absolute corruption of our economic system--and their children to someone else's Middle Eastern grudge match. Swing Vote thinks like I used to fear: that the American electorate is too disease-ridden with Red State mouthbreathers, tidied up or not, to make choices based on common sense instead of ledger and scripture. Though I still would have hated its over-scored, overwritten, glad-handing bullshit before the election, at least now I don't feel so alone about it.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Touchstone brings Swing Vote home on Blu-ray in a 2.40:1, 1080p transfer often so out-of-proportion lovely in relation to its content that I was tempted a time or two to freeze it on the establishing shots of the New Mexico landscape and call it a day. I believe that might be the only reason I watched it all in one sitting--the temptation to shut it off is an unrelenting siren's song. These are coincidentally the only times the film doesn't appear to have been blown-out and drained of colour to feed whatever it is that hyphenate Joshua Michael Stern was trying to do with his small-town setting. Still, an exceedingly filmlike image from start to finish. The 24-bit, 5.1 DTS-HD audio blares John Debney's predictably-ridiculous, thuddingly-overbearing, pandering score in perfect fidelity. The curse of Blu-ray is that a platform this sublime should be condescended to in this way; it's interesting that the ascension of the format rekindles a bit of the sadness over how film itself is made the red-light whore to some fool-John's unworthy fantasies. For what it's worth, the mix roars to life when Costner fires up the gee-tar and gets to hoe-in' down. I love Costner, mind, mainly because he never comes across as patronizing--that is, until he pretends to be stupid. Costner pretending he's stupid is like Jackie Chan pretending he's Chinese: don't pretend to be something you already are, because in the pretending, see, it suggests that you think you need to. It's actually worse, Swing Vote proves, than Costner pretending he's smart.
Stern and co- scribe/offender Jason Richman submit a feature-length yakker long on plot regurgitation and trainspotting and short on apologies and self-reflection. The guys seem pretty jazzed, though, so there's not much sport in tearing them down; they're destined for their own hour of not being listened to by the vast majority of the country on Air America. More power to 'em. Four deleted scenes (11 mins.), with or without Stern commentary, show the candidates relating to folks (which apparently was what attracted Grammer and Hopper to the project in the first place) as well as an extension of the bowling alley sequence that should probably have stayed in the film, since it showcases Costner's easy athleticism and reminds, in the process, of what it is about him that's had him cast most often, and most successfully, as a jock. There's more time here with Stanley Tucci's political advisor, too, and while I'd never fully argue for less time with Tucci, it serves as a painful reminder of how someone like Tucci has to pay the bills. Costner's band Modern West gets a music video (4 mins.) to go along with a 12-minute making-of that does the usual EPK shuck-and-jive. Ironic that there's a political video on here about a political satire? As an asshole, I'd like to offer that it's irony of the best kind. Pre-menu trailers for Miramax's contribution to independent cinema, Disney's "Planet Earth" rip "Earth", Brideshead Revisited, "Lost"season four, and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas round out the platter. Originally published: January 15, 2009.