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Vol. LXII, No. 32
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
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For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

LETTERS, WE GET LETTERS: Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner, left) and his daughter have been deluged by letters from people trying to convince him to vote for either the Democratic or Republican candidate for president.

Swing Vote: Apathetic Constituent’s Vote Is Courted by Candidates

Kam Williams

Ernest “Bud” Johnson (Kevin Costner) is a middle aged father raising his daughter by himself in Texico, New Mexico, a desert town located on the border with Texas. He and his 12-year-old daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll), each miss Larissa (Mare Winningham), a selfish substance abuser who ran off to Albuquerque to pursue a singing career. Bud, too, is also a wannabe musician who played in a Willie Nelson tribute band called The Half Nelsons until the rhythm section was arrested and sent to jail.

Bud works at a local egg factory, where the pay is barely enough to keep a roof over he and his daughter’s heads. However, his job there is in jeopardy because of an influx of Mexicans who are willing to “work twice as hard for half the money.” So, he and Molly are reduced to living in a modest trailer without a telephone or other amenities that most of us take for granted.

Then, when Bud’s job get “insourced,” as he describes it, he drowns his woes in alcohol at his favorite watering hole. Fortunately, his daughter is mature enough to pick up the slack. Somehow, his spunky child does everything for her dad from driving him home when he’s inebriated, to voting for him on election day.

Ironically, life changes for Bud when state officials inform him that, due to an electronic voting machine malfunction, his ballot was the only in the state of New Mexico that was not counted in the presidential election. Since the vote ended in a tie, Bud’s vote will determine whether New Mexico’s five electoral votes will go to the Democratic challenger, Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper), or to the incumbent President Boone (Kelsey Grammer).

To make things more interesting, the national election also ended in a draw, which means that the election outcome in New Mexico will determine who becomes the next president. Bud is given ten days to make up his mind, during which time the press and politicians from both parties descend on tiny Texico and turn the town into a media circus.

The candidates proceed to lobby Bud for his vote, freely changing their positions on everything from abortion, the environment, and gay marriage in order to win his vote. Will Bud choose the Republican, who has promised him employment as a lobbyist, or the Democrat with whom he appears to be more aligned with on the issues?

Even if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief and accept this idiotic premise, Swing Vote is ultimately bitterly disappointing with nothing much to offer other than some sappy sermonizing about how exercising your right to vote is a patriotic and important duty. The picture ends on a cliffhanger leaving the election unresolved, as if setting us up for a sequel. What a cinematic slap in the face this movie is to leave the audience with such an unsatisfying and anticlimactic ending!

On second thought, maybe there was a winner here: corporate America. Judging by the ubiquity of distracting product placements for everything from Budweiser, MTV, Old Spice, UPS, Monopoly, Pepsi, Chevrolet, Newsweek, Motts, Ritz Crackers, Quaker Oats, Verizon FIOS, and others, the mediocre script was apparently less important than the ads. As a consequence, the production squanders the talents of the supporting cast which includes Nathan Lane, George Lopez, Paula Patton, Stanley Tucci, Judge Reinhold, and many cameo appearances by celebrities.

The film is a series of shameless sales pitches instead of a movie with a plot. Next time, at least include an ending if you’re going to make us sit through two hours of commercials!

Poor (0 stars). Rated PG-13 for profanity. Running time: 119 minutes. Studio: Touchstone Pictures.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

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