Reel Shorts | Democracy of One

1 08 2008

Combining the best and worst of our country’s flawed political system, Kevin Costner stars as the most unlikely citizen whose vote will determine the destiny of the Nation’s highest office in the uneven comedy, “Swing Vote.”

From the moment we lay eyes on Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner), its clear that his best days are behind him. An unmotivated single-dad, his days are spent at an egg-packing plant and his nights are spent boozing away at the local pool joint. If it weren’t for his incredibly bright daughter, Molly (newcomer Madeline Carroll), Bud would probably stay in bed, hung over and sleep his life away.

While her daddy is just passing time, young Molly is preparing for the upcoming presidential election. She registers her dad and arranges for him to meet her at the polling station to cast his vote. When absent-minded Bud forgets to show, Molly sneaks in to cast a ballot in his place. But as luck would have it, a technical glitch occurs and the vote is invalid. Soon, that action would come to haunt both her and her father.

As the returns come back its clear that both candidates are locked in a virtual tie. A virtual “democracy of one,” Bud has ten days to decide who will become the country’s next president.

While the film centers on her father, the film’s heart and soul is young Molly. In a film filled with scheming, conniving, selfish people she is the story’s innocence, shining light and moral center. With millions of Americans suffering, they flood her house with letters hoping to give Bud some assistance. Coupled with an ambitious but good-hearted local reporter Kate Madison (Paula Patton), the two of them help Bud discover the enormity of his decision, not just what it means for him but for the entire country.

Once word leaks out that Bud is the swing voter, the media and both candidates descend on their little town creating an amusing media circus. Soon the small town hick is invited aboard Air Force and having special parties thrown in his honor. Featuring many real political journalists, the filmmakers do an amazing job creating controlled chaos that resembles much of what we see every day on the news. The candidates themselves, President Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammer) and his opponent Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper) fare no better, virtually selling their souls and forgetting all moral conviction just to win Bud’s vote.

Whether its driving racing icon Richard Petty’s famed car number 43 or receiving personal messages from country singer Willie Nelson, the candidates pull out all of the stops and many others along the way. In an effort to figure what Bud’s hot-issues are, both campaigns create absolutely hilarious commercials that even in this current election prove to be more credible than the filmmakers initially thought.

While the film’s tone is light throughout the first half, there are several dramatic turns that seem out of place with the film’s breezy tone. Even with the subtle switch Carroll holds it down delivering the film’s most credible performance.

After only focusing on his needs and his newfound celebrity, the film’s attempt to transform his character simply ring hollow. You can’t create the ability to care like turning on a switch and the film feels disingenuous trying to shove it down the audience’s throat. Instead of fostering an uplifting message, “Swing Vote” just leaves you depressed. The film is the one “comedy” that unmasks our political system for what it is – and trust me, that’s not funny.

Grade C+




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