Swing Vote: Kevin Costner fixes our busted democracy

Swing Vote is about twice as smart as you expect it to be and still only half as smart as you wish it was. The clever premise, which would have seemed like science fiction no more than eight years ago, concerns a U.S. presidential election whose outcome hinges on a single misprocessed vote. And naturally, this being Hollywood, and director Joshua Michael Stern being an obvious student of Frank Capra, that vote belongs to the most average of average Joes—Ernest "Bud" Johnson (Kevin Costner), a recently laid-off factory worker in Texico, New Mexico. It's a novel idea for a movie: As Texico becomes the locus of a media frenzy, both major-party candidates (Kelsey Grammer and Dennis Hopper) are forced to abandon their market-tested platforms, their big-money backers, and their vested special interests in order to campaign for the favor of a single American voter. Swing Vote oscillates wildly between spot-on satire and boldfaced parody without ever quite striking a comfortable balance. So it's no surprise that, just as Bud asks his big question at a debate organized for his benefit—the one about why so many people in the supposedly richest country in the world can't afford to live here anymore, which may be the question foremost in many Americans' minds right now—the syrupy music swells, the camera cranes up, and the screen fades to black.

 
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