Swing Vote

This pleasantly diverting and timely little piece will slip in under the radar and scarcely make a blip...but I had a nice time. It is rare to sit in an audience and hear folks laughing out loud, repeatedly, throughout the first half of a movie. In this odd little film, Kevin Costner ("Field of Dreams," "The Upside of Anger" and "Dragonfly") is a ne'er-do-well, country-fried, indolent drunk. Am I being too subtle? He is a mildly profane, worthless, single father whose long-suffering daughter, spectacularly well played by Madeline Carroll (mostly TV and horror films), seems to be the only adult in their trailer-trash domicile.

She struggles to get him up and off to work each day, tries valiantly to attend elementary school and earn good grades, but fails miserably, so he is fired from his egg-packing job in their teeny New Mexican town. Then he forgets to show up to vote in the Presidential election, despite her urgent reminders. She slips into the bingo parlor where the town votes, signs the roster and steals a ballot while an elections worker dozes. As she starts to vote for him, there is a power failure. The voting machine locks up, so she tears off the ballot stub and flees in the darkness.

Of course, because this thing originated in Hollywood and we checked our skepticism at the door, the election is evenly tied, New Mexico can tip the balance either way and it too, is tied. It all comes down to one vote in the county where Costner lives. They link the missing ballot stub with his (forged) signature and Costner becomes the Man of the Hour. He has to swear to recast his ballot in 10 days. He doesn't want to tattle on his daughter, so they are both implicated.

Like Henry Fonda, Costner has a knack for playing plain-spoken characters (although he is NO Fonda!). His delivery is pitch perfect for that kind of person, although he will never be much of an actor. Madeline Carroll, however, does a remarkable scene where she reluctantly delivers an alibi to her school classmates for her dad.

Kelsey Grammer ("An American Carol," lots of voice work for children's cartoons and three television sitcoms) is the incumbent Republican, while Dennis Hopper ("Sleepwalking") is his Democrat challenger. Their campaign managers are played, respectively, by Stanley Tucci ("Kit Kittredge: An American Girl" and "The Devil Wears Prada") and Nathan Lane ("Birdcage" and "The Producers"). Both are slick, focused and pragmatic, while both candidates start to suffer qualms of conscience.

The fun comes as we watch both campaigns pander to the lowest common denominator, see the absurd political ads that are quickly developed and observe the feeding frenzy of the press which is camped around the trailer park. Eventually, it's clear that some common sense will start to prevail. I like redemption movies and Costner's character is sorely in need of redemption!