During this film’s original theatrical run, filmmakers presented a well-timed political pic, but couldn’t quite convince audiences to cast their ballot for this political drama/satire starring Kevin Costner and newcomer Madeline Carroll. Costner has never been afraid to tackle more somber dramas. While this one has touches of no-nonsense comedy, the other elements of drama, satire, and media frenzy scatter into the wind instead of gathering a cohesive movie. Costner’s dialogue and appealing demeanor provide a solid “everyman” performance, but the uneven story can’t grip audiences the same way this past election did.
This film has a great cast, but can’t really bring everything together to make things click, especially after an especially awkward introduction of the President Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammer). Boone and his political adversary Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper) must woo an irresponsible father living in New Mexico named Bud Johnson (Costner), after an election comes down to one final vote. That vote comes about because of a special situation involving Bud’s long-suffering daughter, a considerable part played by the 12-year-old Carroll.
It’s fun to watch Bud react to the attention that represents a summary of nearly every political stance/view, but it’s not fun to watch the other characters squirm and schmooze him for attention. The main consequences to Bud’s largely selfish actions bring dramatic pain to his daughter as his realm of irresponsibility expands while people fall over themselves to get his vote. Bud predictably changes, but it’s a somber, unentertaining experience amid a long two hour running time.
The plot is uneven with a few bright spots as filmmakers can’t fully utilize the talented cast to create a more cohesive, effective experience. The supporting cast includes Nathan Lane, Stanley Tucci, an almost unrecognizable Judge Reinhold, and Paula Patton as a local news reporter. The candidate characters and their teams are too one-dimensional. Even the news media represented by Patton and her boss John (George Lopez) only echo existing political views instead of creating strong characters who might forge their own way in a by-the-numbers media frenzy.
Director/writer Joshua Michael Stern and co-writer Jason Richman create a particularly poignant moment near the end, but the story needed more of them to build up to the mildly ambiguous finale that attempts to jolt audience members into the process and away from the characters. Anything rated for language only will be a tough sell, especially with heavy political dialogue. Kevin Costner still can’t seem to catch a box-office break, or an audience, as echoes of Truman Show and even EdTV drown out any mild amounts of originality. Recommended with reservations (** out of four stars).
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler