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Ain't that America 

Swing Vote

click to enlarge Kevin Costner finally finds those Waterworld fan letters.
  • Kevin Costner finally finds those Waterworld fan letters.

Swing Vote (PG-13)
Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown

"You're ruining America!" poor Molly Johnson yells at her dad, lovable fuck-up Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner), because he's a NASCAR-lovin', beer-swillin' ignoramus. And you just wanna hug her, because the 12-year-old idealist thinks that, geez, if folks just got out and voted, gosh darn it, it'd be like the good old days of apple pie, ice cream and the New Deal, when everyone was poor but noble and honest, and they cared about America and stuff.

And you almost wanna hug Swing Vote, too. It's so cute in how it thinks that it's not too late, that one-man-one-vote really is something akin to, well, maybe nine innings of baseball on a glorious summer's day. You almost don't wanna tell the movie that baseball is corporate these days, and that the apples for the pie were picked by undocumented workers, and the ice cream was made with milk from downer cows.

But that's me: the kind of cynic Swing Vote would like to smack, even though I do vote, for all the good it does. I'll grant that the flick has half enough balls to imply that it may be thinking about suggesting that part of the problem could be that only in America have we elevated the lovable fuck-up to something of a cultural icon ... but that would be insulting its intended audience.

So it gives us Costner's Bud, who, through an implausible confluence of events, is the one man upon whose vote the outcome of a presidential election rests.

So the media descends on our friend Bud, and the trailer he shares with his daughter, Molly (Madeline Carroll, a real find) to find out: How will Bud vote? The eyes of America and the world! are upon him. And so are the candidates' eyes. The Republican incumbent (Kelsey Grammer) and the Democratic challenger (Dennis Hopper) are going to court Bud personally.

That's supposed to be satire, you see, how politicians are vile windsocks who shift with the breeze of public opinion. And it's supposed to be satire, you know, how the media turns Bud into a celebrity. Except someone forgot to tell writer/director Joshua Michael Stern that American culture, media and politics are beyond satire. By the time the movie realizes that for itself, it's too late to switch over to wannabe feel-good ... not that it doesn't try.

It's then the film turns into Washington Goes to Mr. Smith, as Bud realizes what his too-smart daughter has been ranting on about all along, and begins to try to be the kind of man she's been hoping he was. I don't want to spoil it for you, but look: Swing Vote thinks it can cute-ify the genuine evil of the political villainy of a Karl Rove by packaging it into the faux-Hollywood moustache-twirling "evil" of Stanley Tucci. Swing Vote thinks that getting angry over voter apathy is all that's needed to set America on the road to utopia.

I'll say this: Joshua Michael Stern's next movie is King Lear, which terrifies me. I'm afraid he's gonna make the sisters all cuddly and have them make up with Dad on his deathbed. That'd be the equivalent of what he does with the tragedy that is America today in Swing Vote.

scene@csindy.com

  • Bud Johnson is a NASCAR-lovin', beer-swillin' ignoramus.

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