n "Swing Vote," Earnest "Bud" Johnson, played by Kevin Costner, has 10 days to recast his ballot for president of the United States, but it sure feels like a lot longer. As if the ghost of Frank Capra had come back to haunt us, the movie tells the story of a simple fellow — Bud, his very name a product placement — who, after an election error, finds himself responsible for casting the deciding presidential vote for the entire country.
Sounds like an excellent opportunity to turn improbability into a quaint lesson on civic duty.
It is wishful thinking to assume Costner, who produced the film with Jim Wilson, would play responsibly with his outlandish premise. Bud is a caricature of a typical working-class NASCAR dad, but Costner really goes overboard after the country's political and media machines get hold of him. When word leaks about Bud's revote, an army of reporters descends upon his trailer in the tiny town of Texico, N.M., followed by the two presidential candidates: Republican incumbent Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammer) and challenger Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper). What follows is a fairly predictable series of events featuring Bud reacting to the invasion of his privacy and his duty as a citizen.
If the movie feels old-fashioned, it's because director and co-writer Jason Michael Stern doesn't know where to direct its energy, and ends up losing focus while trying to cover Bud, the nominees, the press and the response from average America — all with equal probity. The most interesting character among them is Bud's daughter, Molly (Madeline Carroll), a precocious little girl who got him into this mess. But her development into more than a plot device is stunted by Bud's obligatory moral education.
A local reporter (Paula Patton) nabs an exclusive interview with Bud in a quest for fame, in the process exposing her subject as an ignorant loafer. In one of the movie's few examples of clarity, Bud learns he's an embarrassment and a failure not just to his daughter, but also to himself and his fellows as well. But this revelation comes too late to salvage nearly two hours spent flip-flopping through a tediously typical story arc weighed down with insipid cameos. There's a redeeming moral nugget by the close, but we're only interested in Bud after he's learned his lesson in responsibility. By then the credits are rolling, and it's too late to vote no on this one. (PG-13) 120 min. HHIII S