Kevin Costner plays Bud Johnson, a rather hopeless single-father and egg factory laborer whose smart young daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll) tries to pressure him to perform his civic duty on election day. But when he loses his job, gets drunk and fails to show up at the polls on election day, she signs the poll roster for him, and almost casts a vote in his place until a power outage cancels the effort. But the race between the incumbent Republican president (Kelsey Grammer) and Democratic challenger (Dennis Hopper) is a dead heat, and as it turns out it’s Bud who has signed in to cast the deciding vote.
The rest of the movie features the two candidates wooing Bud for his vote, culminating in a final debate between the two contenders and a speech from Bud on the forgotten working class voter, which, strangely enough, seems to be the obsession of this presidential election.
I ended up liking “Swing Vote” more than I thought I would, given a marketing campaign that evoked 80s era Costner baseball film. Yet some parts are much better than others. The movie is an attempt to recapture some Capra-esque magic of the past, but instead it is a sometimes strange mix of satire, sap and social awareness (with none other than Mare Winningham as Johnson’s drug-addicted ex-wife). The high points are the candidates’ efforts to appeal to Costner’s every whim: The Republican goes for gay marriage, the Democrat for anti-abortion. They make up for the more trite father-daughter emotional conflict, coated with a grating piano background score, that weighs down the movie from its more madcap efforts.
The movie takes no sides. Even the display of MSNBC and Fox logos is in balance, and a dose of cameos from the likes of Chris Matthews, Larry King, Arianna Huffington and Lawrence O’Donnell adds some real-life energy, as does the presence of Mary Hart, a reminder that this year “Entertainment Tonight” is chasing the political beat as well.
The ultimate premise of “Swing Vote” is implausible, even after the experience of Florida 2000 and so many close elections since. But it’s perhaps an easier way of consuming the Americans-are-apathetic message than all the hundreds of poll-luring PSAs will tell us in the coming months.