Unlike some films, Swing Vote wastes no time whatsoever in announcing exactly how wretched it expects to be. Within the first ten minutes, it finds ways to insult everyone from Hispanics to hayseeds, as Uncle Walt’s studio once again teaches us how to mix juvenile tendencies and condescension.
Kevin Costner plays Bud Johnson, possibly the laziest slouch with the largest house in the world. It’s in New Mexico, where someone has left him in charge of one of those preternaturally cute Disney kids named Molly. You know the type. The ones that look like they come from nowhere. Not New Mexico.
Molly, little brain that she is, registers her dad to vote, against his will, his ignorance, and the welfare of society. When Dad gets fired and drunk or Election Day, Molly decides to do the voting for him.
She doesn’t get the chance. The machine goes loony, the vote doesn’t register, and when the election ends in a tie, Bud gets the chance to re-cast his vote and decide the presidential election. Soon news types huddle on his lawn, the candidates work him like a senator, and the world’s eyes turn to a buffoon.
How bad is Swing Vote’s luck? In one scene, President Kelsey Grammer offers the numbskull a beer. That would be Kelsey Grammer. Frasier Crane. An admitted former alcohol abuser. Who reportedly is recovering from a heart attack from a couple weeks ago (for the record,relationship to alcohol: unknown. But still uncomfortable.). When he serves Bud lemonade later on, it comes as a relief.
Then someone throws the nuclear football onto the buzzed hayseed’s lap. By that time, I was hoping that he would figure out a way to accidentally launch a nuclear war and put me out of my misery. Or at least set off enough mega-tonnage to finally wipe that smirk off Nathan Lane’s face.
Never mind the fact that we find out Bud has a felony history, thus disqualifying him from voting in any world outside of Disney World. I used to cover courts. It would have taken me the length of a phone call from my editor and a trip downstairs to the clerk’s office to figure this out. However, the entire nation’s media is too busy camped out on the lawn to notice.
Two notes on cameos — Legendary stock car driver Richard Petty shows up for the obligatory Disney-NASCAR product placement (see: the entirety of Lindsay Lohan’s Herbie: Fully Loaded).This may be the most bizarre cameo I’ve ever seen. Meanwhile, the political analyst James Carville appears on a television screen in this film. He now has the strange distinction of appearing in one of the best films of the decade (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) and one of the worst, all within the space of about 10 months. And he’s not even an actor.
It’s painful to watch Kevin Costner in this. Say what you will about his range; he was the biggest star in the world at one time, turning in memorable lead roles in Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, and A Perfect World. Even three years ago, he warmed The Upside of Anger, and it looked like his career might be in recovery. Now this. Speaking of Hollywood and politics, this is his Bedtime for Bonzo. Swing Vote is like the retirement party for the guy who really doesn’t want to leave.