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Monday, August 04, 2008

Swing Vote

One of my dearest friends in the world, the Dale who is not the manager at the Essex Cinemas, told me that she doesn’t read my column because when I talk about a movie I give too much of the plot away. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard that critique, and, believe it or not, I’ve actually cut back on a lot of what I used to say. At one time I would get so carried away I’d actually summarize the entire movie with commentary from the beginning scene to the ending credits, but in the last year or so I’ve tried to be more discreet. Unfortunately, Dear Readers, discretion has never come easy to me, but, for Dale, and all of you, I shall try to be less specific and a tad briefer in my ramblings so you don’t have to waste your whole day or eat up too many brain cells thinking about the double and triple entendres and quixotic quips I toss about here.

So this week I saw the god-awful
Swing Vote starring Kevin Costner (Mr. Brooks). Poor Costner; the older he gets the more he looks like Peter Falk’s old raincoat from “Columbo.” He’s wrinkled and tan and missing way too many threads (on top) to be considered the man-candy he once was, which may explain why he ends up playing low-life losers like Bud Johnson in this (alleged) comedy. I say alleged because when I left the theater after not laughing once I heard a woman a few rows down from me actually ask her companion if this was supposed to be funny because if it was she didn’t get it. Well, I did, but I thought it was less a comedy and more a cry for reform of child protection laws.

What is supposed to be a laugh riot about one man’s predicament as the sole American put in the awkward position of having the very public responsibility of casting the single tie-breaking vote in a Presidential election is really more about that same man’s wretched skills as a single parent to his extraordinary 12-year-old daughter, Molly (Madeline Carroll in a remarkably moving debut). After 15 minutes of watching this misbegotten reprobate drink himself into a stupor and forget every conceivably important parental obligation he might have, I found myself less concerned with the humor of his voting situation than the need for someone ~ anyone ~ to call Child Protective Services and take that poor kid away to foster care.

Even a usually reliable Kelsey Grammer (tv’s “Back to You”) as incumbent President Andrew
Boone and Dennis Hopper (Elegy) as his Democratic opponent Donald Greenleaf can’t breathe laughs into this turkey, and you’d think just the idea of former bad boy Dennis Hopper of all people playing a Presidential candidate would be worth at least one chuckle, but, eh? And who would think Nathan Lane (The Producers), as Greenleaf’s campaign manager, would come off as desperate and pathetic instead of desperate and funny?

There are lots of cameos by real life news darlings like Larry King, Aaron Brown, James Carville, Arianna Huffington, Campbell Brown, Chris Matthews, and a slew more, but all their “news reports” only succeed in further blurring the line between entertainment and dependable and credible sources for news these days, a charge that’s been leveled many times in recent years and backed up here by adding to the mix sound bites from entertainment reporter Mary Hart, singer Willie Nelson and satirist Bill Mahr as well.

So there you have it. My abbreviated grumble about a movie that could have been a whole lot more if it had decided on a whether to be a family drama, a political comedy or even a political drama for that matter, but it succeeds as none of the above. Instead it drifts aimlessly in search of the middle choice but misses it entirely in favor of a little bit of the other two, but not enough of either to make it a success. I think I’d vote for a do-over in four years with a fresh team of writers and actors, except maybe for Madeline Carroll, who can absolutely stay if she can still pull off playing twelve by then. She’s the only gem in this tragedy.

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