Swing Vote (Blu-ray)
Directed by Joshua Michael Stern
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 1080pAVC codec
Running Time: 120 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English, Spanish
MSRP: $ 34.99
Release Date: January 13, 2009
Review Date: January 2, 2009
A light political satire with some turgid family melodrama thrown in for good measure, Joshua Michael Stern’s Swing Vote scores more points with its political intentions than with its domestic ones. Some appealing performances and a good physical production don’t offset a decidedly unappealing leading character who‘s the focus of at least half of the film.
Deadbeat dad Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner) is basically kept afloat by his eleven year-old daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll) who manages to cook for him, keep the home running, and even drive dad home from nights of drunken revelry. Come election day, Molly is so committed to having her dad show some responsibility that she even tries to vote for him on election day right at closing time when the ballot gets stuck in the machine. When the votes for the closest election in history come to be counted, the five electoral votes from New Mexico, their home state, are the deciding ones for the entire election, and it comes down to that one vote caught in the voting machine that will decide the outcome of the election. Bud, then, becomes the center of attention for the entire world as both candidates, President Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammer) and the Democratic challenger Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper), make treks to Texico, New Mexico, to do their best to persuade the ignorant and uninterested Bud into voting for them.
Director Stern’s script (along with co-writer Jason Richman) manages to skewer both parties who seem so eager to win that they’ll listen to anything that pops out of the idiotic Bud’s mouth and take drastic steps in order to win his favor, even down to the Democrats supporting the pro-life movement and the Republicans going all out for gay rights. The sides are fairly parodied; no one turns out looking triumphant in their zeal to convince Bud which side to choose. True, the satirical swipes are pretty broad and unsophisticated but certainly make their points. More problematic, however, is making their leading character such an unmitigated lazy, irresponsible, and uncaring lout. Casting Kevin Costner, one supposes, was done to alleviate the audience’s irritation with his callous treatment of his doting, darling daughter, but it isn’t entirely successful. One loses patience with a man who has such a perfect child and doesn’t know how much his indifference to her wants and needs is appalling and definitely not funny. A predictable late-movie turnaround is rather too jarring for the film’s best interests and robs it of some of the heart it so desperately wants to insinuate as the film concludes.
Kevin Costner appears to be having a tremendous good time playing a luckless ne’er-do-well, but his idiocy often will give even Joe Sixpacks across the country some contentious moments. Kelsey Grammer and Dennis Hopper play their candidate roles expectedly well though Grammer seems to get the majority of the best lines and scenes of the two men. Their campaign managers, Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane respectively, likewise give their roles all they can and like their bosses, Tucci seems to come out on the better side of lines and laughs. Mere Winningham has a very effective cameo sequence as Costner’s former wife, and Chip Esten take a small role as a secret service agent and adds warmth and concern for his New Mexico charges. The movie is stolen, however, by newcomer Madeline Carroll as the plucky Molly. Intelligent without the sarcastic backtalk that some movie children have shoved into their mouths, her Molly is thoroughly appealing and winsome, and her climactic recitation before her class with her expected dad absent is one of the best acted scenes of the year.
The film’s 2.40:1 aspect ratio is delivered in 1080p using the AVC codec. Contrast is often dialed up a trifle hot in the transfer resulting in flesh tones that look burned rather than normal, though sharpness is never less than outstanding. I did notice a few edge halos occasionally, but they aren’t a major problem. The natural film grain suggests no DNR was used on the transfer. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is predictably front heavy, typical of most film comedies. There are some occasional moments where ambient sounds are pumped into the rear channels (noisy crowd activity, for example), but the rear surrounds aren’t used to any great extent, and neither is the subwoofer.
The audio commentary by writer-director Joshua Michael Stern and co-writer Jason Richman is continually chatty, but Stern has a tendency to utter “you know” after every few phrases wearing out the expression long before the track concludes. The two men are enthusiastic about the cast and the film, and their enthusiasm is obvious.
“Inside the Campaign: The Politics of Production” is a brief making-of documentary dealing with the casting, the use of real television news pundits, and the location work for the movie. It lasts 13 minutes and is in 1080p.
There are three deleted scenes and one extended scene which can be viewed with or without commentary by director Joshua Michael Stern and can be viewed separately or in one 10 ¾-minute chunk. They're all in 1080p.
The music video of “Hey Man, What About You?” performed by Kevin Costner’s band Modern West runs 4 ½ minutes in 1080i.
The disc presents 1080p trailers for, among other Disney releases, Grey’s Anatomy - Season Four, Lost - Season 4, and Earth. The trailer for Swing Vote is not present.
Swing Vote has some laughs and is affecting enough to generate some tears. It’s not altogether successful as a political satire or a family drama-with-heart, but it’s worthy of a rental for the cast alone and especially to see the debut of a wonderful new child actor.