Ben Glass, Disney Enterprises Inc.
Molly Johnson (Madeline Carroll, left) and her father, Bud (Kevin Costner, second from left), confront a barrage of reporters in the political comedy "Swing Vote."
SWING VOTE — ** — Kevin Costner, Madeline Carroll, Kelsey Grammer; rated PG-13 (profanity, violence, slurs, vulgarity)

"Swing Vote" desperately wants us to think of it as a modern-day, "populist" comedy, much like Frank Capra's beloved 1939 comedy, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," or the films of Preston Sturges.

But Capra and Sturges would have never stooped to the depths that this buffoonish comedy does. Witness its irksome, nearly offensive use of character stereotypes.

What's disappointing, though, is that we want to like the film. Unfortunately, it keeps doing things that make that nearly impossible. Such as a rather dubious sequence in which Kevin Costner sings.

Costner stars as "Bud" Johnson, an alcoholic single father who's just lost his latest, dead-end job and is on the verge of losing his much-smarter daughter, Molly (Madeline Carroll).

She's insisting that he cast his vote in the presidential election, but he wastes that opportunity by drinking in a pool hall instead. So Molly sneaks into the polling place to cast a vote on his behalf — even though that's illegal.

As unbelievable as it may seem, that vote may decide the presidency, since a crucial electoral vote hangs in the balance. But thanks to a momentary power outage, Bud's supposed ballot isn't counted.

That turns trailer-park resident Bud into an instant celebrity. The two candidates — the Republican incumbent (Kelsey Grammer) and Democratic challenger (Dennis Hopper) — even come to his small New Mexico community to win his vote.

Co-screenwriter/director Joshua Michael Stern's film may be well-intentioned. But his inexperience behind the camera really shows in the broader comic scenes.

Also, at nearly two full hours, the film is too long by at least 20 minutes, and the dumb subplot about a wannabe network television newswoman (Paula Patton) only drags it down more.

That said, the television-ad spoofs are sort of amusing, and you can't fault Costner, who seems to be having fun for a change. He's well-matched with relative newcomer Carroll, too. So maybe we'll forgive him for the singing.

"Swing Vote" is rated PG-13 for occasional strong profanity (including one usage of the so-called "R-rated" curse word), some brief, violent imagery (violent arrests, done for laughs, and target shooting), derogatory slurs and language, and some vulgar humor (belching) and references. Running time: 119 minutes.

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