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Swing Vote DVD Review

Swing Vote movie poster Swing Vote

Theatrical Release: August 1, 2008 / Running Time: 120 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Joshua Michael Stern / Writers: Jason Richman, Joshua Michael Stern

Cast: Kevin Costner (Ernest "Bud" Johnson), Madeline Carroll (Molly Johnson), Paula Patton (Kate Madison), Kelsey Grammer (President Andrew Boone), Dennis Hopper (Donald Greenleaf), Nathan Lane (Art Crumb), Stanley Tucci (Martin Fox), George Lopez (John Sweeney), Judge Reinhold (Walter), Charles "Chip" Esten (Lewis), Richard Petty (Himself), Willie Nelson (Himself), Mare Winningham (Larissa Johnson), Mark Moses (Attorney General Wyatt), Nana Visitor (Galena Greenleaf)

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Since the Walt Disney Company announced in the summer of 2006 plans to scale back non-Disney branded entertainment, its Touchstone Pictures division has lost much of its luster. Once a producer of 7-9 high-profile films a year, Touchstone's recent annual output has dipped to 2-3 releases. It must be rough for the label to have the terrible Step Up 2 The Streets go down as the only 2008 release registering on audience radars.

But as far as mainstream adult fare goes, Disney can still count Kevin Costner as one of its biggest movie stars. The actor, who turns 54 this month, has made three of his last six films at Touchstone. Perhaps that shouldn't be a point of pride for the studio, however.
Costner's popularity levels are a far cry from what they were in the early '90s, when he won Oscars for directing and producing Dances with Wolves and headlined major blockbusters like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and The Bodyguard. For proof of his decline, we need only look at Swing Vote, Touchstone's latest Costner vehicle.

The film, a timely what-if imagining a US presidential election being decided by one average joe, tanked in theaters. Opening in sixth place and earning just $16 million domestically, Swing Vote fared poorly even by the limited standards of the political comedy genre. Paling next to the modest returns of satires like Man of the Year and Bulworth, Swing will need strong home video sales and ancillary earnings just to meet its production budget. You probably needn't tell Costner that; he invested over $21 million of his own money on financing the film before Disney stepped in and footed the bill.

America fixes its attention on Ernest "Bud" Johnson (Kevin Costner), the New Mexican who single-handedly will choose the nation's next leader. President Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammer) offers a supportive hand on the shoulder of the seasoned campaign manager (Stanley Tucci) who has to figure out how to win a single man's vote.

Costner plays Ernest "Bud" Johnson, a divorced southwestern father to one extremely precocious preteen girl named Molly (Madeline Carroll). Though she reminds him of his important civic duty, Election Day arrives and he's too drunk and forgetful to vote. Taking matters into her own hands, Molly manages to sneak into the polling place and cast a ballot in her father's name. Or at least, she starts to, until a glitch prevents the session from going through. As luck would have it, it is established that New Mexico's five electoral votes will determine the new president emerging from a practically deadlocked race.

Rather than dramatizing the endless recounts and legal wrangling that would really ensue, the film opts for a fantastical scenario in which Bud's uncast vote quickly becomes the single one which will choose the next commander in chief. Once this news leaks out, the nation's eyes turn to the small city of Texico, where Bud Johnson becomes the center of attention. A simple, unmotivated type, Bud is an unlikely emblem for democracy. He swears, guzzles beer, likes to fish, has a wardrobe marked by cut-off sleeves, and barely makes ends meet as a bottom-rung egg factory worker.

Bud's nature poses a bit of a curveball for the competing campaigns, both of whom promptly show up in town as part of an intense media circus that will last the ten days Bud has until revoting. Ignoring the ethical questions, incumbent Republican Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammer) and popular Democratic hopeful Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper) both embrace schmoozing the swing voter at the encouragement of their respective, determined campaign managers (Stanley Tucci, Nathan Lane). At Bud's slightest hint of a preference, Boone and Greenleaf are eager to change their stances on issues like the environment, abortion, and gay marriage. Meanwhile, an ambitious local reporter (Paula Patton) sees the story as her big break and Molly tries to keep her father from being superficially swayed.

Bud and Molly (Madeline Carroll), the precocious and prominent daughter who got him into this mess, are honored guests at a lavish party thrown by the Democratic Party and conceived by this tuxedoed campaign manager (Nathan Lane). Democratic candidate Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper) has got the whole world in his hands in this out-of-character pro-life ad inspired by the swing voter's casual comment.

My favorite thing about Swing Vote is that despite being all about present-day politics and the electoral process, the movie doesn't get political. It doesn't preach or pick a party or vilify one candidate; it simply considers topics of interest to the general public, as perceived by one coarse, noncommittal working class citizen. It's not exactly a bold or brilliant stroke; 47.1% of the country's voters didn't pick Barack Obama and you can bet that substantial demographic wouldn't be eager to pay for the liberal rhetoric that many in Hollywood were happy to dispense freely. And vice versa, as evidenced by David Zucker's conservative comedy flop An American Carol, which also featured this film's candidates Hopper and Grammer.

Without entertaining either realism or polemics, Swing Vote instead chooses to be a mild character study, in which the three most important players are Bud, Molly, and America. That last component is nearly just humanity, but it's specific enough to invite a touch of wit and plenty of commentator cameos from the likes of Tucker Carlson, Bill Maher, Arianna Huffington, and Chris Matthews. Also playing themselves with less rhyme and reason are celebrity heartland septuagenarians Richard Petty and Willie Nelson.

As it becomes clear that none of the many potential cop-out conclusions will satisfy, one wonders how Swing Vote will resolve itself. It doesn't. But for a film that turns a ludicrous presidential run off into a tale of daddy-daughter bonding, it's of some relief that it's not as corny as it could be.

Buy Swing Vote on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: January 13, 2009
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
(Reduced from $29.99)
Black Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on Blu-ray Disc
Netflix, Inc.
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VIDEO and AUDIO

Swing Vote appears only in its 2.40:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio. The crystal clear picture is unblemished, its ever so slightly washed-out colors an unusual but unobjectionable style choice. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is quite gentle. There are a few flurries of activity in a handful of spectacle scenes. The dialogue that drives the mix is crisp and balanced. The film makes a bit of a musical impression on the viewer, first with John Debney's overactive and syrupy score and then in a number of calm, mostly unfamiliar folk songs.

Joshua Michael Stern, the young man who directed and co-wrote "Swing Vote" appears in the disc's making-of featurette. Kelsey Grammer gets quite teary-eyed at the sight of an elephant in this unusually sentimental deleted scene. With well-picked character moments and listings resembling endorsement signs, the Swing Vote DVD main menu should earn a high approval rating.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

"Inside the Campaign: The Politics of Production" is a fine 13-minute featurette
which lets cast and leading crew members discuss the film, its themes, the parts, their casting and real-life inspirations.

Next comes a music video for Modern West's "Hey Man What About You?" (4:15). Kevin Costner's band in and outside the movie performs the song in one of the film's setups, which we see when not dabbling in routine montage of Swing Vote footage.

For Deleted & Extended Scenes, we get four items (10:50). Found here are sentimental public gatherings with the candidates, an exchange between Lane and Tucci's campaign managers (marred by a distractingly blurred backdrop), a Costner/Patton confrontation and a longer cut of the existing bowling alley scene. They're presented in finished widescreen and Dolby 5.1 sound, with optional audio commentary by writer/director Joshua Michael Stern, who reveals the first deletions are what initially interested Grammer and Hopper. Ouch.

Last, Stern teams up with co-scripter Jason Richman for a feature audio commentary. Their conversation here is pretty substantive and interesting. Being relative newcomers to the business, they bring enthusiasm and detail in talking about specific scenes and their overall intentions. They talk candidly and avoid being dry or too technical. Though I doubt the overlap of Swing Vote, filmmaking, and commentary fans will grant this a huge audience, it's certainly better than many of the tracks I've had to endure and might be worth your time.

The disc opens with a Blu-ray promo and trailers for Earth, Brideshead Revisited, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. All of these are also accessible from the Sneak Peeks menu, where they're joined by ads for Miramax Films, ABC News, and "Lost": The Complete Fourth Season.

The animated menus resemble a political convention with animated confetti, no shortage of party colors, and well-implemented character highlights.

Though no standard chapter inserts are held inside the slipcovered keepcase, one does find an ad for Kevin Costner's band's first album and a booklet promoting Blu-ray.

After she gets him up to drive her to school, Molly and Bud talk politics on Election Day morning. The two presidential candidates vie for a single man's vote with one final debate.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Swing Vote treats its fanciful premise sensibly and somewhat seriously. Neither as clever as it thinks nor as corny as it sounds, it's an adequate if unextraordinary way to spend two hours. I think the timing is off for this DVD release. Following its lackluster run in theaters, the film should have been rushed to hit DVD on Election Day. Arriving now just before Inauguration Day, it has taken a dive in relevance as we all have reason to be tired of discussing and dissecting presidential selection. Disney's DVD is sufficient, but unless you've already taken to the film, are enamored with multiple members of the impressive ensemble cast, or can't get enough toothless political comedy, there's little reason to go out of your way to see this.

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Starring the Cast of Swing Vote:
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Stanley Tucci: The Hoax Shall We Dance? | Nathan Lane: The Lion King Teacher's Pet | George Lopez: Balls of Fury
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Reviewed January 8, 2009.



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