In the hands of Preston Sturges or Frank Capra, Swing Vote could have been great, a big-hearted love letter to democracy that doubled as a loving yet penetrating satire of its excesses. Instead, the film radiates squandered potential in every frame. Under the direction of co-writer Joshua Michael Stern, it emerges as third-rate Capracorn, leaden and lumpy where it should be swift and pointed.
Kevin Costner piles on the aw-shucks, good-ol'-boy folksiness as a hard-luck New Mexico trailer-park denizen who loses his shitty job at an egg factory due to tardiness, drunkenness, and all-around incompetence. When he proves too wasted to vote, his frighteningly precocious daughter (Madeline Carroll)—a United Nations General Secretary in the body of a latchkey kid—tries to vote on his behalf, only to be foiled by an unplugged voting machine. Through a wildly implausible series of events, the election becomes a dead heat, and Costner is burdened with casting the deciding vote. Suddenly, a hapless fuck-up outclassed and outsmarted by his daughter is being wined and dined by Republican president Kelsey Grammer and Democratic contender Dennis Hopper.
This potentially sharp working-class fantasy proves strangely unsatisfying. An overbearing score smothers the film's first half under strained faux-nobility, while the second hour is given over to unearned sentiment. In the film's single clever gag, the presidential nominees shamelessly betray their values in a desperate bid to win Costner's support. After Costner expresses concern about Mexicans taking American jobs, Hopper's Democrats become the party of border-protecting xenophobes. After Costner expresses cautious support for gay marriage on Entertainment Tonight, Grammer's Republicans suddenly develop an incongruous commitment to legally recognizing alternative unions. Yet even this bit isn't as pointed as it could be. Grammer and Hopper are such one-dimensional caricatures that they elude satire. It's hard to betray your principles if you don't have any.