Blu-Ray Review: ‘Swing Vote’ Wastes Great Cast on Predictable Script

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CHICAGO – Joshua Michael Stern’s “Swing Vote” hit theaters at the peak of the Presidential campaign and it’s no coincidence that the Blu-Ray release lands in stores a week before President-Elect Obama takes office. With a great ensemble and old-fashioned sensibility, “Swing Vote” is a film that should work. Like a misguided campaign for office, it just doesn’t come together.

The intention of co-writer and director Joshua Michael Stern, to make a film that basically asks that people pay more attention to the political world around them, is an honorable one, but the script has all the subtlety of a lead hammer. The Blu-Ray release from Walt Disney Home Video features appropriate video and audio for a movie like “Swing Vote” and a decent collection of special features, but most people ignored this Kevin Costner vehicle in theaters ($16 million domestically is the actor’s worst take in seven years) and they should probably do so on the home market as well.

Swing Vote is released by Touchstone Home Entertainment on January 13th, 2009.
Swing Vote is released by Touchstone Home Entertainment on January 13th, 2009.
Photo credit: Walt Disney Pictures Home Video

Costner stars as Bud Johnson, a character who would have worked as an average everyman but who has been misguidedly written as a trailer park moron. Costner has made a career of playing the average guy in everything from “Bull Durham” to “The Upside of Anger” but he mistakenly plays Bud way too dumb. Early scenes make it clear that Bud is struggling so much that he may have to sell blood to be able to afford his daughter Molly’s (Madeline Carroll) medical bills and yet we’re supposed to believe that he barely even knows the role of the President of the United States.

Swing Vote is released by Touchstone Home Entertainment on January 13th, 2009.
Swing Vote is released by Touchstone Home Entertainment on January 13th, 2009.
Photo credit: Walt Disney Pictures Home Video

Just because the working class may feel that government doesn’t speak for them does not mean that they don’t understand what they do. “Swing Vote” could only work if we identify with Bud, but he is so clearly a character created by Hollywood’s impression of the working class that it’s impossible to do so.

The plot of “Swing Vote” kicks in when Molly, Bud’s politically active daughter, encourages her father to get involved in the presidential election going on between the incumbent Republican (Kelsey Grammer) and challenging Democrat (Dennis Hopper). A chain of events on Election Day lead to a presidential race that comes down to one vote, Bud’s. The candidates who need Bud’s tie-breaking vote descend on his community and a gorgeous local reporter (Paula Patton) tries to break the story that Molly was the one that half-voted in the first place.

“Swing Vote” might have worked as a “Wag the Dog” satire of a broken political process but it’s as toothless as an ABC Family movie. It’s not broad enough to be a satire but never believable enough to be a character study. And the whole affair is the last thing that politics were in 2008 - predictable. Of course, Hopper and Nathan Lane play the Democrats and Grammer and Stanley Tucci play the Republicans. How refreshing would it have been if they had swapped parts? And the manipulative final act is just a device. The basic message of “Swing Vote” seems to be that all it takes to be politically active is a night of cramming.

Touchstone released “Swing Vote” in theaters, so Walt Disney Home Video handles the Blu-Ray release and they’re clearly one of the better studios working on this format. Having said that, there’s nothing remarkable about the 1080p High Definition/2.40:1 transfer for “Swing Vote”. It’s neither better nor worse than what it should be. Same goes for the English 5.1 DTS-HD track.

The special features are similarly right around par, including a commentary by the writers and director, deleted & extended scenes, and a featurette called “Inside the Campaign: The Politics of Production”. Like the movie itself, the special features are predictable - commentary, featurette, deleted scenes. They’re what fans should expect with a title like “Swing Vote,” no more and no less.

In the end, “Swing Vote” features such a good ensemble that it’s going to be a tempting rental for many shoppers this season. How ironic that a feature that felt like a TV movie in theaters will be seen by many more viewers at home than ever went to the multiplex.

‘Swing Vote’ is released by Walt Disney Pictures Home Video and stars Kevin Costner, Paula Patton, Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Hopper, Nathan Lane, Stanley Tucci, George Lopez, and Madeline Carroll. It was written by Jason Richman & Joshua Michael Stern and directed by Stern. It will be released on January 13th, 2009. content director Brian Tallerico

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