by Hank Yuloff
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When you’re a CNN/CSPAN junkie like myself, you always wish, “What if I got to make the final decision on who became president?” I can tell you now, we wouldn’t have had massive Reaganomics deficits, would not have had to worry about reading any moron’s lips and Saddam would still be completely contained in the No-Fly Zone box.
So when I first saw the trailers for writer/director Joshua Michael Stern’s film Swing Vote, I could not help but harbor those feelings that finally, some informed, considerate, compassionate person could make that very important decision. In this film, however, my worst fears are confirmed, and the American who gets to cast the final vote is an “ordinary guy” whose voting-day ballot was the subject of a computer error and did not register.
Kevin Costner (Tin Cup, Field of Dreams, Bull Durham) plays Bud Johnson, the out-of-work egg factory worker who only shows up on election day because his preteen daughter Molly (Madeline Carrol from Resident Evil: Extinction) feels it is our civil duty to vote and registers her father. Or did he?
The town of Texiko, New Mexico (yes, it really exists; a friend of mine wanted to take a road trip there once), is invaded by one of those made for television media frenzies. How all those satellite trucks arrive at the same time, I have no idea. And overnight, Bud and Molly’s trailer (of course they live in a trailer) is the subject of 24-hour surveillance. Nothing like a home security system provided by a CNN news camera.
Since the election has come down to one vote, incumbent Republican president Boone (Kelsey Grammer of Frasier and Back to You) and the Democratic rival (Dennis Hopper as Donald Greenleaf) also invade the town, bringing the full force of their media savvy to bear on gaining the vote of one man. Can they match their issues to Bud’s? This is their job.
This movie reminded me a little bit of Wag the Dog—where the political gymnastics of the country are looked at under the microscope of one man’s issues and how one person’s vote can matter. The satire of how candidates lower their standards and contort to the public’s perceived needs, wants and desires is on full display here. It goes way over the top, but there are a few things which make this film one you should not miss.
Bud being the loser that he is, Molly decides that it would be better if she went to live with her mother. Larissa Johnson, played by Mare Winningham, is probably the most honest character in the film. She is permanently down on her luck and like a comic who is stuck on stage with a bad audience, when Molly comes unannounced back into her life, she puts up her best Three Minutes of excuses and what is going to happen for her life. But like that same comic who’s best Three Minutes were never that good, even a 12-year-old sees right through the lie of her mother’s life.
The second best scene actually brought a tear to my eye. Bud rallies at the last hour, you knew he would, and tells the two candidates that he will need a debate between the two on the eve of his casting his ballot. Costner’s speech at the beginning is worth the cost of admission. If you are not moved by it, you either checked out of the American system years ago, or still have one of those W04 stickers on the back of your gas guzzling SUV.
Among the summer movie frenzy of the Bat and the Mummy, here is a very cute comedy about life in a small town and how it can be good for all of us.
By the way, if this happens to you this November and you even for a moment think that you should vote for Grampy McSame, please write me here. As of this moment, I could cite you 27 flip flops the man has performed as a way of doing anything for your vote and by then, the number, I am certain, will be over 72, his age. Add to that the sight of him coming outside the White House in robe and slippers screaming “Get off my mall” and you might swing your own vote to the junior senator from Illinois with the great family values and a temper which stays under control.
Hank Yuloff is an entertainment mogul, film critic, and co-founder of Film Monthly. He lives in L.A.
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