"Swing Vote" is a picture of such egregious obviousness, it even seeps into the casting. Kevin Costner as an all-American, beer-swilling loser? Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane as reptilian political advisers? Dennis Hopper and Kelsey Grammer as spineless presidential candidates? George Lopez as a Mexican-American stereotype? All that seems to be missing is Mo'Nique as a sassy African-American secretary and Patrick Warburton as a butch CG-animated field mouse.
An unemployed drunk living in the tiny town of Texaco, New Mexico with his precocious pre-teen daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll), Bud (Kevin Costner) hasn't committed to anything in his life since his wife left him years ago. When Bud passes on his chance to vote for the next president, Molly assumes the honor for him, only to find her ballot has malfunctioned. Now with the voting results split evenly between political parties, Bud finds himself the deciding factor in the election, given 10 days to recast a vote he never wanted to make in the first place. Soon wined and dined by the gutless, manipulative candidates, Bud's world is turned upside down as he's molded into a media figure and the last hope for America's future.
A Capraesque comedy that doesn't actually desire to be a comedy, the experience watching "Vote" is akin to having a pillow pushed over your face for two punishing hours. All the great intentions and surefire casting can't save this tedious, heavy-handed, and exceedingly condescending film from assured screen death. Though Costner's giddy stoner laugh helps matters slightly.
Why anyone would want to make a stale film like "Swing Vote" is the real question here. Ostensibly an inspirational tale intended to rile up the country during the recent, critical election year, "Vote" takes the wrong road, setting itself up as a perfectly liquid farce of idiots deciding between idiots, only to become a severely sidetracked preaching machine, trying to isolate the pointless hysteria of the electoral system by coating the endeavor with a sticky, cumbersome glaze of schmaltz and agonizing melodrama.
Certainly Costner could play this role in his sleep, and his grizzled truck-n-Budweiser routine props up the early going of "Vote," permitting the actor plenty of time to showcase his frightening ease portraying middle-American voting apathy. I liked Costner here, but his act is beaten to death by director Joshua Michael Stern, who has no sense of an off switch for Bud, letting the performance drag into complete inconsequence.
The viewer is supposed to believe in Bud's deepening concern for the issues and his trust in the electoral process, yet that transformation is muted by the film's obscene length and Stern's inability to sniff out dud subplots when they emerge. Do we really need to see Molly confront her junkie runaway mom? Watch as the candidates lose their soul to the campaign trail? "Vote" is not a dramatically economic picture, preferring to follow every unproductive tangent it can find, distancing itself from the central plot with every useless detour.
Gifted an anamorphic widescreen (2.40:1 aspect ratio) presentation, "Swing Vote" reads very hot on DVD, with fleshtones much too pink and the image quality a bit too blown out for comfort, losing some of the necessary detail of the photography. Color range is sacrificed as well. Granted, the story is rooted in a southwestern location, but the DVD tends to push the brightness to unnatural ends.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is ripe with blue collar rock and whimsical scoring by John Debney, and the track blends the music with the dialogue to satisfaction. There's limited directional movement, but the audio mix matches the film very well. A Spanish 5.1 mix is also available.
English for the Hearing Impaired and Spanish subtitles are included on this DVD.
A feature-length audio commentary from writer/director Joshua Michael Stern and writer Jason Richman never tuckers out, but the true informational quotient of the track is a matter for personal debate. The filmmakers are delighted with their movie, trying to impart the listener with a strong feel for thematic intention and location nuance. Oddly, the guys speak for two hours, but fail to truly pass along even the slightest unrehearsed thought, retreating to a semi-annoying film theory language to chase their tails. I found the commentary to be dullsville, but fans of the picture might enjoy this rambling, humorless chat.
"Inside the Campaign: The Politics of Production" (12:58) is a routine BTS featurette that opens with Kevin Costner proclaiming the picture, "an American classic." Clearly, this interview was recorded before the theatrical release of the film, where Americans promptly rejected it. The rest of this one-dimensional promotional tool is made up of fawning and celebration, with minimal attention paid to the creative process.
"Hey Man, What About You?" (4:15) is a music video from the band Modern West. Never heard of the group? The lead singer is...Kevin Costner! The DVD also comes with an insert promoting the band's debut album, "Untold Truths."
"Deleted Scenes" (10:52) present some spiritual hallucinations (complete with an elephant and Native Americans), heartfelt political bonding, and character asides that couldn't find a spot in an already overlong film. The scenes can be viewed with or without commentary from Joshua Michael Stern.
And a Theatrical Trailer has not been included on this DVD.
"Swing Vote" is not for cynics, instead executed with direct earnestness that soon mummifies the picture in elementary sermonizing (hey kids, corruption is bad!) and blue sky idealism it's not prepared to properly deal with. Surely America is hurting right now and could use a beacon of hope to bridge the divide and put some air in the patriotic tires. However, a deathly uneven, woefully unfunny attempt at a political comedy/statement from an emphatically nondescript filmmaker and an overexcited Kevin Costner is not the proper vessel for change.
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