Pilot at the Movies

Thursday, August 21, 2008

'Swing Vote' - oh phooey, you'll probably like it anyway

I guess they don't call them critics for nothing. The so-called experts are voting thumbs down on "Swing Vote," one of the most anticipated movies of the year, as being too sentimental. ("Gooey" says the Associated Press reviewer.)

As a matter of fact, I can't recall the last big-time movie review that I encountered that actually liked the movie they were covering. Life must be pretty dismal for those dudes.

For the rest of us, we probably go to movies because we actually like movies, and "Swing Vote" promises to have a lot to like when it opens in Storm Lake tomorrow.

You have probably heard about the uber-timely plot. Kevin Costner, as a scruffy, selfish, beer buzzed former football player [what Bret Favre wasn't available?] is goaded to voting by the precocious daughter who runs the household, played with unexpected poise by young Madeline Carroll. But in a clear jab at Florida's hanging chads, something goes haywire, and it turns out the entire presidential election is a tie and must depend on Costner's simple backwoods character Bud to recast his ballot to decide the outcome.

Wham - instant celebrity for our reluctant hero, who would really rather be drunk and fishing than enmeshed in political history.

Is it "Paper Moon" meets "Field of Dreams" meets "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"? Darn skippy, with a little "Tin Cup" thrown in. Does it get a little heart-melty and preachy at times? 'Spect so. So it's not the kind of Shakesperian hoo-ha that makes the big media movie reviewers wet their drawers - so what?

In a world of remakes and sequals and prequels and endless comic book ripoffs, this is an attempt at a actually unique story, actually in time with what is happening in the real world. Costner is still one of the most likeable and watchable actors on the screen. The cast is strong - Dennis Hopper is a fantastic choice for the limosine liberal Democrat candidate while Kelsey Grammer is equally inspired as the stuffy Republican incumbent. The scenes of the two engaging in one-upsmanship to try to capture Bud's heart by awkwardly taking part in country pastimes at his side look hilarious. And a late appearance by Mare Winningham as the drugged-out absent mom to Bud's daughter gives the film a little more guts than your average comedy, as well as a glimpse into a few things that actual politics seems to be overlooking. You even get a little Larry King and Bill Maher here and there.

The reviewers are right - the movie has a soft spot and it is even likely to get a little "I Love America" on you... got a problem with that, go check out what's playing at the Mexico City metroplex, hoss.

The rest of us will be in line for the popcorn.