Swing Vote

Tell you what. If the American presidential election somehow had to come down to just one fella’s vote, you sure as shit wouldn’t want that fella to be Bud Johnson.

See, Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner) is many things, but…no, actually, come to think of it, he’s not much of anything. Well, OK, maybe some moviemaker’s schematic idea of the American everyman, but not much else. He’s not a terrible guy, mind you, just, well, not a very dependable one either. Best not to expect ol’ Bud to hold down a job for too long. Or a marriage. Best not to think he’ll be sober enough in the mornings to make sure his daughter gets to school.

That little girl of his (Madeline Carroll), now she’s the responsible one. She does the planning, and the cooking, and the designated driving. Oh, and she does his voting, too.

No sir, indeed she is not old enough to drive or to vote, but, see, that’s your perfect example of how it goes with Bud. And you bet it’s a problem–made much worse when, in fact, the American presidential election somehow does come down to just one fella’s vote, and guess whose it is.

Next thing you know, Bud’s New Mexico trailer park is all full up with media people, making one hell of a ruckus. Even the candidates themselves show up: One Republican incumbent (Kelsey Grammer) and one Democratic reformer (Dennis Hopper), plus their contentious campaign managers (Stanley Tucci on the red side, Nathan Lane on the blue), with everybody just tripping all over themselves and their principles to score Bud’s vote. Suddenly it’s like a surreal sweeps week for new campaign commercials, with the Democrat charging through a desert scramble of illegal Mexicans, the Republican cuddling up to gay couples, and the rest of us just shaking our heads ’cause we know how politicians and movies about them are.

As for ol’ Bud, well, he’s like a deer in the headlights. Richard Petty gives him a race-car ride to lunch with the president. Willie Nelson invites him to the challenger’s dinner party. (Bud used to lead a Willie Nelson cover band, which reunites at the party.) Secret Service guys monitor his every move, and pundits appear in self-satisfied cameos to offer their analysis. Says Bill Maher, “Jesus, wake up, America. Bud Johnson is a dumbass!”

Looks like now’s about the time for Bud to be searching his soul–not to mention studying up on civics. Good thing he’ll get a crash course from that disappointed but oh-so-precocious young daughter of his, along with the eager reporter (Paula Patton) who first broke his story. Still, America really wants to know what he’s gonna do.

So say director Joshua Michael Stern and his co-writer Jason Richman, anyway. They just don’t say it too convincingly is all. Stern comes across like a cut-rate Frank Capra, aiming for aw-shucks heartlandicana and contriving toothless, safely nonpartisan satire. And John Debney’s heartstring-yanking score doesn’t do him any favors. True, the clunky pacing improves and the tale gets more absorbing as it develops. But in the end, what’s it all worth?

See, Swing Vote is many things, but…no, actually, come to think of it, it’s not much of anything. Not a terrible movie, mind you, just, well, not a very dependable one either.