“Swing Vote,” an upcoming family comedy about a fictional presidential election starring Kevin Costner, is likely to draw ire from members of the two major political parties. The script plays off of stereotypes that annoy and inflame the party faithful on both sides.
Scheduled for release in August by the Walt Disney Co.'s Touchstone Pictures, the film depicts Republican strategists as nasty connivers without souls, willing to change their views on gay marriage and the environment just to get elected. Democratic campaigners are shown to be similarly hypocritical, spinelessly flip-flopping their long-held positions on abortion and immigration to win the election.
“Swing Vote” revolves around a low-life trailer park drunk (Costner) who, by virtue of his young daughter's idealism, becomes responsible for deciding the fate of a closely tied presidential election. Both the incumbent Republican commander-in-chief (Kelsey Grammer) and the milquetoast liberal Democrat challenger (Dennis Hopper) descend on his small town and vie for his vote by shamelessly courting him, even going so far as to change their strongly-held beliefs to align themselves with what they mistakenly believe are his views.
A small crowd at an advance screening on the Disney studio lot in Burbank, California this week laughed loudest when Hopper's character appears in political ads targeted directly at Costner's redneck character. In one of the commercials, Hopper talks to the camera while illegal immigrants race across the border behind him. In another spot, the Democrat appears in a playground while children vanish in wisps of black smoke as he talks about revoking Roe v. Wade. Grammer's Republican character also appears in mock ads, including one calling for the legalization of gay marriage.
Though the film skewers both Republicans and Democrats, the lion's share of zingers are aimed at the GOP characters. While the Democrats come across as lightweight challengers, the conservative figures are depicted as storm troopers in business suits — willing to pollute beautiful landscapes in exchange for corporate payoffs and happy to cajole, badger and even bribe Costner's character in exchange for his critical vote. If the Democrats come across as merely hapless, most of the Republicans are depicted as heartless.
In one of the movie's opening scenes, the vile GOP campaign manager calls for hiring brawny bodybuilders with Aryan looks to scare away elderly Jewish voters from polling places in Florida. Later, when the Republican candidate has conflicted thoughts about all the hypocrisy, he asks his adviser, "What are we about?" The Rove-ian response: "Winning."
Several real-life commentators are peppered throughout the motion picture, including MSNBC's Chris Matthews, CNN's Larry King, HBO's Bill Maher, McLaughlin Group pundit Lawrence O'Donnell, digital doyenne Arianna Huffington and, perhaps most jarring, former CNN anchor Aaron Brown, who hasn't been seen on cable TV for three years. (Surprisingly, no ABC News anchors or correspondents such as Charlie Gibson or George Stephanopoulos appear anywhere in the film, even though ABC is owned by Disney and the company usually promotes such synergy.)
The film, which shouldn't be confused with a 1999 drama of the same name, also features Stanley Tucci as the wily GOP campaign manager and Nathan Lane as his Democratic equivalent (albeit one who has never won an election.) The movie's promoters use taglines — "One Vote Changes Everything" and "One Ordinary Guy is Giving the Candidates a Reason To Run" — aimed at catching the election year zeitgeist, but the film's crazy premise may find its popularity tempered by the real-life dramas taking place on the actual campaign trail.
Rated PG-13, the film has absolutely no sexual scenes but does contain plenty of four-letter words uttered by Costner's skeevy character, either when e's harshly admonishing his cheerful, bright-eyed daughter or when rudely awakened from a drunken stupor.