by ED SYMKUS & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & O & lt;/span & n one level, Swing Vote is a sharp, witty piece of satire that mixes in a generous supply of drunk jokes and pratfalls. On another, it takes aim at politicians of all persuasions. That the script also manages to work in a heartwarming but prickly father-daughter relationship is one of the reasons people are going to enjoy this film so much.

Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner) is a lazy drunk who'd rather be sleeping than working, and who's fired from the egg-packing plant after a surveillance camera catches him in a little on-the-job drinking. He's also the loving, but careless, single dad of 12-year-old Molly (Madeline Carroll), who's a bright student and who runs their trailer home as if she's become the mom who left long ago.

While Bud is as apolitical as one can get, Molly has taken an interest in politics. She so badly wants her dad to take an interest in the process that she manages to get him registered. Then she gets him to promise to vote in the upcoming presidential election.

The race is between the incumbent Republican president (Kelsey Grammer), who reasons to himself that if he found a cure for cancer, he would likely get in the history books, and the Democratic challenger (Dennis Hopper), who pledges that when he wins, the White House will become the Rainbow House -- open to all.

As for the promises Bud makes to his daughter -- well, he tends to break them, especially when passing out after too many beers. A disappointed Molly manages to sneak in "his vote" herself, but then there's a glitch -- something akin to an electronic version of a hanging chad. The national election comes down to a dead heat, with one deciding vote that needs to be recast in a little town called Texico, New Mexico.

Yup, that's where Bud and Molly live, and since goofball Bud has unwittingly become the man to cast that vote, it's where both presidential candidates, the media and every known group interest group -- Amnesty International, Planned Parenthood, proponents of "marijuana is medicine" -- converge.

The film is fast and funny, and the actors -- delivering the solid script -- all get great marks. Costner shows off some comic chops, and Carroll, in her first starring role, manages to be convincingly worried, completely self-assured and totally believable.

Highlights include a pretty darn good musical sequence featuring Costner and his band Modern West, and an outrageously funny pro-life ad. And Swing Vote features a hopeful -- and nearly perfect -- ending.


Rated PG-13

Directed by Joshua Michael Stern

Starring Kevin Costner, Madeline Carroll, Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Hopper, Nathan Lane, Stanley Tucci


& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & K & lt;/span & evin Costner said yes to starring in the political comedy Swing Vote practically from the moment he read the script.

"The script had been around," says Costner. "People thought they might want to make it, but then they began to second-guess themselves that it didn't have an international upside because it was such an 'American' movie. But the director had me in mind. He came to me, we had dinner, I liked it, and I said that I'd do it, and I'd also produce it."

Costner's character Bud also happens to be a good father, and his daughter, though sometimes exasperated by him, also loves him dearly. Costner and Madeline Carroll (pictured together here) are onscreen together for most of the movie. A look at Costner's resum & eacute; reveals that he's done quite a few roles opposite very young actors, from the much-derided Waterworld to the underappreciated A Perfect World.

"I don't talk down to kids," says Costner. "I deal with them. Whether I'm dealing with them empathetically or whether I'm having to hit one in the face in 3,000 Miles to Graceland. "

Costner stops talking, briefly lost in thought about that whack in Graceland, then says, "That was a funny moment, and I knew it would be funny because I had been true to my character. This kid was overstepping. And when you saw him keep overstepping, you were in the audience going, 'He should quit doing that.' Then I was able to tie hitting him into a joke."

When Costner first met Carroll, they talked about working together on Swing Vote. He brought up the mutual trust they would have to share as actors. The first time they did a scene together, he purposely didn't say his line on time, which confused Carroll.

"I could see her getting edgy, but I did that on purpose," says Costner, who then asked her what was wrong. "She'd say, 'I didn't know if you knew your line.' I said, 'I knew my line, but I'm still acting over here. I'll give you my line when I want to give it to you. If I don't know my line, I'll say so. Nothing says that you have to say your line right away. I could go and pour myself a Coke and sit down.'"

Audiences will also be able to check out a different side of Costner in one scene when he straps on a guitar and starts singing.

"I have a band called Modern West," he says. "We've been playing for about two and a half years. I had played music before, and I just wanted to start again. I wanted to play in the cities where I was working, and I wanted to play when I'm on the road promoting a movie."

He smiles and adds, "That's my band in the film."

Spokane Jewish Cultural Film Festival @ Gonzaga University Jepson Center

Jan. 28-Feb. 5
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