August 7, 2008

‘Swing Vote’ Lacks Heart, Character Development


By now, practically everybody who does not live under a rock has bought a ticket to this summer's many blockbusters. Popcorn flicks such as the amazing "Iron Man," the satisfying "Hellboy 2," the exciting fourth Indiana Jones, the breathtaking "WALL-E," and the absolutely marvelous "The Dark Knight" have all thrilled droves of moviegoers. And rising amongst these expensive epic films is the humble political comedy, "Swing Vote." But will the film outshine these popular popcorn flicks, or fall under the moviegoers' radar? Will it sink or swim?

Unfortunately, "Swing Vote" is not a strong swimmer.

Written by Jason Richman and Joshua Michael Stern, "Swing Vote's" plot revolves around childish hick Bud Johnson (played by Kevin Costner), his daughter Molly (played by newbie Madeline Carroll), and the politics of the presidential election. When Molly has to write a school report about her dear ol' dad's contribution to the election process, things get hairy. Instead of voting for president as he promised Molly, Bud drinks himself into a drunken stupor -- forcing Molly to take matters into her own hands and vote on her father's behalf. Things go awry and, ultimately, the entire election and fate of the nation comes down to one vote -- one man -- and that man is Bud Johnson.

Richman and Stern's concept is promising. However what glint of hope the movie's amazing premise does offer quickly falls victim to the distracted script. Well over half of the movie is full to the brim with Bud's zany high-jinks with the media and how Democrat Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper) and Republican Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammer) desperately try to appeal to Bud and get his vote. Bud's screwy encounters with the likes of Willie Nelson and Richard Petty are meant to be funny, but frequently fall flat.

By the finale, the movie clumsily switches gears to a more serious tone with the sudden maturing of Bud as a father and a citizen. However, it just doesn't work; it doesn't seem real. The script lacks character development and many characters disappear completely -- leaving moviegoers unable to care for anyone or anything in the movie. The message about the importance of voting is presented, as are other key issues in the United States today; however, the film's constant gags distract from the film's theme. In fact, the script seems to echo the character of Bud: both are lazy and carefree, yet astonishingly grow serious and mature at the last moment.

What does work are the performances. Child actress Madeline Carroll outshines Kevin Costner. Her performance as the lonely Molly is everything it should be: innocent, precocious, and most of all -- heartbreaking. But surpassing all key players of the film is Mare Winningham who makes a brief appearance as Bud's ex-wife and Molly's no-good mother. Her appearance is short, but very sweet and to the point. Winningham's performance instills both sadness and anger in the moviegoer -- smacking the viewer with an emotional wallop that the rest of the cast is unable to do. Yet, even this is not enough to save "Swing Vote." When faced with such strong movies in theaters as "WALL-E" and "The Dark Knight,""Swing Vote" is sure to be forgotten. Moviegoers would be better off seeing any other summer popcorn flick for a second time than buying a ticket to "Swing Vote," for they have something it does not have: heart.

Rebecca Hanson will be a senior at Pioneer High School.



Review: Two stars (out of four)

Rating: PG-13

Originally published by NeXt Correspondent.

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