Stuck somewhere between biting political satire and bland family drama, 'Swing Vote' never quite hits it past second base. It's middle-of-the-road and timidly non-partisan, a congenial-enough comedy that manages to make a few valid points without truly offending any sensibilities. Perhaps if it had been more acidic and biting it might have been more memorable. As is, it's likable fluff that's far less consequential than it thinks.
The concept, admittedly, has potential. Kevin Costner stars as Bud Johnson, a single dad to daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll). Bud's a lovable lout -- okay, he's a loser -- who practically enslaves his kid to get her to do all the work around their house in New Mexico. In fact, he's such a lazy deadbeat he gets Molly to go vote for him on election day, and her ballot gets stuck in the machine. But when Bud's vote turns out to be the deciding ballot in the closest election in American history, he soon finds himself in the middle of a political maelstrom. Those on both sides of the red/blue divide stumble all over themselves to win Bud's "swing vote," and in the process, teach Bud a thing or two about being a proper citizen, father and patriot.
Directed by Joshua Michael Stern, who co-wrote the script with Jason Richman, 'Swing Vote' is as schizophrenic as it sounds. It never quite delivers as either political satire or heartwarming family comedy. The main problem is that Bud seems like a screenwriter's feat of engineering rather than a believable, three-dimensional character. Why is he such a cad to his daughter? Because, of course, the script requires it -- he must be a pliable simpleton that both sides can easily exploit to win the election. He often acts in such unbelievable, aw shucks ways that it strains credibility, and even the utterly lame (and obvious) third-act redemption feels phoned in from Screenwriting 101.
'Swing Vote' has a lot more fun skewering the "anything for a vote" mentality of today's politics. Relentlessly bipartisan, 'Swing Vote' doesn't let either side off the hook, but it does eke some humor out of the lengths its Democrats and Republicans will go to sway Bud. Watching the film's fictional Republican incumbent Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammer) and Democratic challenger Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper) pander to the worst instincts is amusing, and the film occasionally scores a few timely zingers. 'Swing Vote' also has fun by broadly lampooning the strategists behind today's mega-millions political campaigns, here represented by (the rather underutilized) Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane. It's a shame 'Swing Vote' didn't just dispense with the father-daughter subplot altogether, as the satire is far more successful without it.
The film also lacks a satisfying conclusion. Substituting sentimental pathos for any biting cultural comment, 'Swing Vote' ultimately wastes its very concept. Why hinge a story on the vote of one man, if you don't actually care what that vote actually is? It's here that 'Swing Vote's avoidance of political bias hampers its effectiveness -- it wants it both ways and no way all at once. That doesn't mean 'Swing Vote' isn't entertaining enough -- and Costner actually seems to be having a great old time playing a pretty unpleasant character -- but one can't help but think the film could have been more.
A 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer (2.35:1) is offered for 'Swing Vote,' and it's a nice presentation of a rather bland-looking film.
The clean source has a slight veneer of grain which lends a film-like appearance. Colors don't really pop out but are fine, with generally accurate fleshtones. Contrast runs a bit hot for my taste, but the deep blacks make for nice contrast and depth. Visible detail is usually strong, as is shadow delineation. There are no noticeable artifacts, though the transfer appears overly-sharp with some edge halos. Overall, this is a solid if ultimately unremarkable transfer.
Disney offers a DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track for 'Swing Vote.' The film doesn't offer much aural interest, but it's pleasant enough.
The film's light drama and comedy offers a front-heavy mix. There is little surround action save for the sporadic discrete effect and some bleed on the songs and score. Dynamic range is perfectly fine with decent stereo separation and spaciousness. Low bass gets the job done, if hardly sticks out in the mix. Dialogue is very well-recorded, however, and is certainly the star of the show. As with the video, there is nothing exceptional here, but the soundtrack supports the film perfectly well.
The supplement package on 'Swing Vote' is fairly standard, if nicely presented in full 1080 HD. Subtitle options are the same as the main feature.
'Swing Vote' is an amicable political comedy-drama, but it's too benign for its own good. It's likely to be a film that quickly gets relegated to the back of video store shelves. This Blu-ray is perfectly fine, with good enough video, audio and supplements. I didn't hate 'Swing Vote,' but it's hard to imagine anyone giving it more than a rental.