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.
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 a 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 audience 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.
"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.