Saturday 22 November 2008

Movie Review: Swing Vote (2008)

Interesting premise. Horrible execution.

Sometimes, Hollywood just seems to forget what the word "subtle" means, or how powerful it can be to deliver a message with cleverness and gentle prodding. Instead, the brash "in your face" delivery method is unleashed to carpet bomb any trace of soul that tries to poke itself out of the ground.

Swing Vote, directed by Joshua Michael Stern and written by Stern and Jason Richman, has Kevin Costner as the blue collar uneducated beer-loving single dad who is the beneficiary of a computer malfunction and gets to cast his vote again in the US Presidential election. And on his vote rides the outcome of the entire tight election between the Republican incumbent (Kelsey Grammer) and the Democratic challenger (Dennis Hopper). Interesting premise, and a clever idea that could have delivered compelling drama, comedy, or both. But in the hands of Stern and Richman, the film is a pure colour-by-crayons disaster that seems to run backwards into every imaginable cul-de-sac.

The international press descends onto Costner's tiny town and creates a media circus that the film overcooks to a charred crisp. Then both the Republicans and the Democrats wade into the mess in an attempt to win his vote, and proceed to immediately chuck overboard all that they stand for in response to every off-handed remark made by Costner's clueless character. So for example, overnight, the Republicans become pro-environment, the Democrats become pro-life, with the two candidates bowing to every whim of their driven campaign managers.

In the middle of the farce is Costner's idealistic, precocious daughter (Madeline Carroll, the only watchable thing in the movie), who despite having two substance-abusing losers as parents is somehow growing up to be the smartest kid in all of New Mexico. And let's not forget to throw in the ambitious local female TV reporter who wants this story to be her stepping stone to national prominence, and her boss the local station executive who works hard to define the word stereotype.

The film must win recognition for strictly limiting every character to one dimension; not avoiding any cliches; and not delivering a single intelligent, memorable or reflective moment.

And if the first 110 minutes were not bad enough, the film out-does itself in the last 10 minutes. All of sudden, Costner gets a brain, and starts to care; a character who could not stop thinking about beer suddenly contrives to deliver a painful monologue about the importance of being a good citizen, working hard, contributing to society, and voting. The two candidates just as suddenly seem to find a conscience, although even this transformation is hopelessly flubbed in the case of the Democrat, who needs a full-face whacking from his wife to rediscover his values (did we mention the lack of subtlety?).

Swing Vote is witless, boring and simply awful, for its entire overblown length.

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