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"Swing Vote"

"Swing Vote"; a film review by Gary Chew

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

I missed the only screening of "Swing Vote." Mostly because I felt it might be a real turkey. I was told by my 'magical movie intuition' while looking at the photographs and art out ahead of the film that, if not a turkey, it certainly wasn't because it would be difficult to make it one. Sometimes, you can see the gobblers coming a mile away. I did see "Swing Vote" two days after it opened and submit this tardy report.

Meet Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner), a divorced father of a 12 year-old daughter, Molly (Madeline Carroll; her first film). (Great job, Madeline!) Bud will soon be sacked at his job in a Texico, New Mexico egg processing plant. He is a good-natured slacker kind of a guy and the young girl has an IQ close to what William F. Buckley surely had. (Shades of "Juno.") Molly is the parent. Bud is the child. Nothing original here.

Molly, failing to get her dad to vote in the New Mexico presidential election, sets off (by an accident and some chicanery of her own) something nearly as fantastic as the 2000 U.S. Presidential election. And because of it, the outcome of the national presidential race has come down to a single vote deciding who is elected. That would be Molly's deadbeat dad's vote. For Hollywood, nothing terribly original here, either.

Kelsey Grammer and Dennis Hopper

Kelsey Grammer and Dennis Hopper

Kelsey Grammer plays GOP incumbent President, Andrew Boone (any relation to Pat?). And the performance of Democratic challenger, Donald Greenleaf is given by that old Easy Rider himself, Dennis Hopper. The Karl Rove types are played by Stanley Tucci for the Republicans and Nathan Lane for the Democrats. Fox is the name of Tucci's character and Lane plays the role of a man called Crumb. George Lopez plays a jerk of a local Albuquerque TV news producer and the lovely Paula Patton is featured as a hard-charging news model breaking the Bud-Johnson-One-Vote story locally as well as nationally. How do you spell Media-Feeding-Frenzy?

Mare Winningham appears briefly as Bud's down-and-out ex who is holded-up somewhere in Albuquerque chasing a singing career. Two well-known folks of stage, TV screen, radio and race track play themselves in cameo: Willie Nelson and Richard Petty. And if you look quickly, you'll see a star-studded array of TV cable news faces such as: Chris Matthews, Bill Maher, Tucker Carlson, Larry King, Aaron Brown, Arianna Huffington, Lawrence O'Donnell, Tony Blankley, Campbell Brown, Matt Frei, Mary Hart and, of course, the ubiquitous James Carville. The only ones missing seem to be John McLaughlin and Pat Buchanan.

"Swing Vote" doesn't get down to taking an obvious side in the proceedings of this marvelously made-up presidential election, but, not surprisingly, it leans a bit liberal since Bud Johnson is not upset with same-sex marriage. However, he's not so clear on his attitude about the pro-life/pro-choice issue. Near the end of the film, a debate between the incumbent and the challenger is broadcast around the world with Molly's dad as the only person onstage with the interrogatives. After listening to the answers, Bud will make up his mind as to which man, by his one vote, will be the next President of the United States of America . The narrative brings it on down to each of us alone with ourselves in the voting booth.

As a preamble to Bud's first question for the two powerful men on camera with him, he delivers a little explanation about himself---and a rather moving Jimmy Stewart kind of a speech. In this scene, Costner is not the slacker Bud who just lost his job down at the egg plant, but more the Cavalry officer he played in "Dances With Wolves." An everyman who doesn't have many answers but wishes he did, and knows what's most important is his daughter who's always working hard at helping her daddy keep his act intact.

Kevin Costner and Madeline Carroll
Kevin Costner and Madeline Carroll

Well, as you may have guessed: a turkey "Swing Vote" is not. It's only a tick or two from being Capra-esque. Jimmy Stewart could've played Bud Johnson and Margaret O'Brien, Molly. There would have been fewer PG-13 words uttered in a Capra original, but the tone and message are there. As corny as it may sound here in the din of Indecision and Division-2008, being a citizen in a democracy is important, especially when it comes to casting a vote. Whatever station in life, voting is like a muscle in the human body: use it or lose it, Friend-Oh.

"Swing Vote" preview

"Swing Vote" official site.
Opened August 1.
Now playing at the Cinemark and the AMC Southroads 20.
Check Yahoo Movies  for Tulsa theaters & times.
Gary Chew can be reached at garychew@comcast.net
Copyright © 2008, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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