Swing Vote

Swing Vote

*1/2

This is the perfect time for a scathing political satire.

The 2008 Presidential election is loaded with excitement and promise for change.  I am not letting the hope and the hype fool me, however. There hasn’t been a major movement of change in Washington in a long time and I don’t see why 2009 will be any different.

I know that people like to take sides between the Democrats and the Republicans, but they have more similarities than differences. Both major parties are essentially pro-war, pro-business, pro-big government, and entirely committed to maintaining the establishment – especially when they are in power.

Anyone who is confident that the election this year will lead to dramatic, positive change could use a good satire to remind them of the cynical reality of American politics. “Swing Vote” isn’t it.

Kevin Costner stars as Bud, a hard-drinking blue collar guy living in a trailer park in rural New Mexico with his uptight, unrealistically precocious daughter Molly.

On election night, a power outage causes Bud’s vote to not be counted. In a preposterous turn of events, Bud’s lost vote is the one that will break the tie in NM and decide the entire Presidential election.

The film follows one wild week in Bud’s life, as he is hounded by the press and shamelessly courted by the sitting President (Kelsey Grammer) and his liberal opponent (Dennis Hopper).

The things that “Swing Vote” gets right are fundamental truths about politics that everyone already knows. It isn’t news that politicians – and especially the people who run campaigns for politicians – care more about victory and power than actual issues.

And I don’t think anyone needs to be reminded of the fact that members of the press care more about scoring ratings than the dignity and well-being of the people they interview.

“Swing Vote” is dumb and shallow from the opening credits on, but the first half is pleasant enough to sit through. The film takes a terrible turn for the worse in the final act as the tone switches from light-hearted and casually irreverent to heavy-handed and maudlin.

Director Joshua Michael Stern must be new to the game, because anyone with a basic understanding of the rules of cinema knows that nothing is more destructive to a satire than making it too serious and depressing.

The second hour of “Swing Vote” is so poorly conceived it is like having Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould massacred by Chinese soldiers at the end of “M*A*S*H*” or having Peter Sellers break down in tears during the closing credits of “Dr. Strangelove.”

Eventually, Molly became so insufferably self-righteous and the tone of the film became so preachy that I couldn’t take it anymore. I walked out of the movie.

In the end I decided that it really didn’t matter who won the election because either way I was going to lose. I guess in that regard “Swing Vote” is a little bit like real life.

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