In 'Swing Vote,' A Civics Lesson, Hollywood Style

Kevin Costner i

U.S. of Apathy: Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner) likes freedom and bowling. Voting and jury duty? Not so much. Ben Glass/Walt Disney Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Ben Glass/Walt Disney Pictures
Kevin Costner

U.S. of Apathy: Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner) likes freedom and bowling. Voting and jury duty? Not so much.

Ben Glass/Walt Disney Pictures

Swing Vote

  • Director: Joshua Michael Stern
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Running Time: 100 minutes

Rated PG-13: A lesson in civic responsibility, with curse words.

Madeline Carroll i

Molly Johnson (Madeline Carroll) has firsthand knowledge about the importance of voting that makes her the star student in her social studies class. Ben Glass/Walt Disney Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Ben Glass/Walt Disney Pictures
Madeline Carroll

Molly Johnson (Madeline Carroll) has firsthand knowledge about the importance of voting that makes her the star student in her social studies class.

Ben Glass/Walt Disney Pictures

One of our truest moral measures is how we segue into old — or older — age. Are we dignified about it? Or do we enter it kicking and screaming like the kid we wish we could have stayed forever?

Hollywood loves the latter premise because, yes, it makes for better dramatic conflict. But it also allows aging male stars to appeal to those young viewers the dream factory has always been so desperate to please.

Case in point: Swing Vote, a morally muddled attempt to pay Capra-esque tribute to America's democracy that also amounts to Kevin Costner playing a 50-something buffoon with arrested development.

As Bud, the perpetually besotted — but always loving! — single father of a preteen daughter (newcomer Madeline Carroll), he wakes up hung over in their trailer every morning, then scrambles to get Molly to school on time.

When Bud reneges on a promise to Molly to vote in the national election, the 12-year-old takes it upon herself to fulfill her father's civic duty. In a plot too tortuous to fully recount, Bud's vote — caught in limbo by a nonfunctioning machine — becomes the crucial factor in a tied election.

And so Bud becomes the country's most important citizen, as both candidates and a media circus await the casting of his tie-breaking vote.

We're supposed to be more tickled than disapproving about Bud, who's all plaid shirt, good heart and lack of pretension. Forget about his parental incompetence, irresponsible ways and his political apathy. He's just a kid in grown-up's clothing.

We should also overlook that Bud and Molly conspire to keep it a secret that she cast the vote and forged her father's signature. After all, what's a little voter fraud when it comes to electing a president — or trying to extend Costner's shelf life?

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