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Swing Vote (2008)

Touchstone Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/13/2009

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/10/2009

Here's a question, who is smarter, Oscar-winner Kevin Costner or animated super villain Killface from Frisky Dingo? This may seem like an odd query, but let's look at the facts. Both have recently been involved with projects which poke fun at the American election system. On Frisky Dingo, Killface, a homicidal alien, ran for President of the United States, against a lascivious moron, and the whole thing lampooned the two-party system and political stereotypes. Costnerís latest film, Swing Vote, attempts to do the same thing. It wants to show just how silly the American elections can be. Which do you think was more successful in its task?

Costner stars in Swing Vote as Bud Johnson, a lazy, ignorant, borderline-alcoholic, single-father living in Texico, New Mexico. He works at an egg-packing plant, but heís not a model employee. His daughter, Molly (Madeline Carroll), is a gifted child who is embarrassed and impatient with her father. Molly has become very interested in the political process and was even featured on the local TV news reciting her essay about the importance of voting. She has nagged Bud about Election Day and he agrees to meet her at the polls after work. Unfortunately, he gets drunk and passes out. Molly goes to the polls anyway and attempts to vote in Budís place, but the machine malfunctions -- the ID is accepted, but the vote isnít. That night, the Presidential election votes are tallied and it all comes down to one vote in Texico, New Mexico...the vote of Bud Johnson (or at least, the authorities think that itís Bud). Bud is visited by state officials who inform him that his vote wasnít counted and that heíll be able to vote again in 10 days. (Weíre never told why he has to wait.) Suddenly, Bud becomes a international celebrity, with the media camping-out on his doorstep. Incumbent President Boone (Kelsey Grammer) and his opponent, Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper), both come to Texico with their staffs to sway Bud to vote for them. At first, Bud is overwhelmed by all of this, but he soon begins to like the limelight. Thereís only one problem, he knows nothing about the election and has no idea for whom to vote.

Swing Vote is one of those movies which look great on paper. The movie is a reality-based fantasy where the fate of the entire American electoral system rests on the shoulders of one man. The story takes this notion one step farther and makes the man an ignorant, white-trash redneck. This is the sort of tale which could be rife with satire and really make fun of how far politicians will go to win. Unfortunately, the filmmakers behind Swing Vote have decided to aim the film squarely at people just like Bud Johnson.

This movie takes what could have been an incendiary, dangerous idea and waters it down to an impotent waste. The movie shows both Boone and Greenleaf pandering to Bud, but they simply bend their message to match what they think Bud wants. The movie never goes beyond a "Hey, isn't it funny that politicians are two-faced?" mentality, and doesn't challenge the audience. The only part of the film which gets edgy is an anti-abortion ad which is so funny and outrageous that it feels as if it came from a different film.

The lack of spice is further hampered by the fact that the movie never knows what it wants to be. Well, the movie thinks that it's a political satire, but it isn't. On top of that, it throws in a predictable romantic vibe between Bud and a reporter (Paula Patton). The film's finale then turns into a weep-fest as Bud finally begins to take his situation seriously. During all of this, the audience waits for the comedy which we had been expecting.

I rarely question the casting in films, but Kevin Costner simply wasn't a good choice to play Bud. It's admirable for him to want to play against type, but he can't pull this off. I'm not sure if I think of Costner as intelligent, but it's hard to buy him as the dim-witted Bud, who seems to be truly stupid person. When compared to Jason Lee in his role on My Name is Earl or the kind of characters which John C. Reilly plays, it's far too easy to see other people in this role.

In the 90s, Disney's arm, Touchstone gained a reputation for releasing banal and hokey movies, and Swing Vote continues this tradition. The movie takes a great idea and sucks any life out of it. Like Robin Williams' Man of the Year, Swing Vote castrates a political satire and brings us a movie which pales in comparison to the drama of a real election.

Swing Vote enters the booth on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Touchstone Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. This is a very good transfer, as the image is very sharp and clear, showing just a hint of grain and no defects from the source material. The image shows an amazing amount of crispness which offers nice detail and excellent depth. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. This is one of those Blu-ray Discs which really shows the difference between Blu-ray and DVD. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.7 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track provides very good audio, as the stereo effects are very detailed and show good stereo separation. The in-film music sounds fine and we get good surround effects during the crowd scenes. There are a few moments which provide nice bass.

The Swing Vote Blu-ray Disc has a handful of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Writer/Director Joshua Michael Stern and Writer Jason Richman. The Disc contains four DELETED & EXTENDED SCENES which run about 10 minutes and can be viewed with optional commentary from Stern. The scene between Nathan Lane and Stanley Tucci is good, but a long scene with Kelsey Grammer and a group of Native Americans is a dud. "Inside the Campaign: The Politics of Production" (13 minutes) is a brief making-of featurette. It contains comments from the cast and crew, discussing the casting, characters, and story. The co-writers share some background on the origin of the script's idea and there is a nice amount of behind-the-scenes footage. The final extra is a MUSIC VIDEO for the song "Hey Man What About You?" by Modern West.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long