Swing Vote
Starring: Kevin Costner, Madeline Carroll, Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Hopper, Nathan Lane and Stanley Tucci. Directed by Joshua Michael Stern. Rated PG-13.

Downtown Ventura took on a different personality July 26, as streets were blocked off and parking was tougher to find than usual. There was the odd sight of a red carpet snaking its way from the Watermark Restaurant on Main Street across to the Century 10 Theater. Add 350 well-dressed people wandering the area, proudly bearing laminated passes on bright red cords, and you just knew something big was afoot.

A large stage was set up in the middle of California Street, and 10 hours before the event, some people had staked out their territory with blankets and lawn chairs. Say the name “Kevin Costner” and everyone within hearing distance got whiplash from fear of missing a glimpse of the famous host.

Costner has a new movie in theaters Aug. 1 called Swing Vote, and the actor pulled out all the stops for his hometown premiere, with an upscale fundraiser and screening followed by a free street concert from his country band, Modern West.

You just knew this was where a few famous somebodies could be spotted, because Inside Edition host Pat O’Brien was there with a crew, chatting with Costner on the third floor of Watermark. Most of the cast did not attend the event, although child actor and co-star Madeline Carroll was present.

Following a stroll along the red carpet, the VIPs funneled into the screenings of Swing Vote. At the 5 p.m. screening, Costner introduced the film and thanked everyone for coming.

Costner still identifies Ventura County as his home. “I’m very touched that I can come home this way,” Costner said. Hitting some high-fives along the perimeter of the audience as he headed up the aisle to the exit, Costner again thanked the crowd and wished everyone an enjoyable experience.

Swing Vote is a political comedy co-written and directed by Joshua Michael Stern, which also keys in on a not-so-happy father-and-daughter relationship. Costner plays Bud, a rather stupid, self-centered and laconic worker in a New Mexico egg factory who drinks beer until he passes out. Bud lives in a trailer and often forgets to shower, shave or change his clothes.

Bud is also a single father with a precocious 12-year-old daughter, impressively played by Madeline Carroll, who, in a reversal of roles, takes charge of daily living issues like getting her father to work and getting herself to school. Remember Carroll’s name: This girl is gorgeous and talented.

Through an improbable set of circumstances, electoral officials believe Bud had his vote inadvertently canceled. The plot gets even more unlikely as the entire presidential election hangs on his single re-vote.

Kelsey Grammer plays the incumbent Republican president, and his top aide is played by Stanley Tucci. Grammer alternates between avuncular and icily threatening when it serves his purposes. Dennis Hopper plays the Democratic, liberal rival, with Nathan Lane as his political honcho.

Both sides need Bud’s single vote to win the election, and both candidates will do whatever they believe is necessary to win. The broad message of the film — and it is as subtle as a two-by-four across your head — is that politics is, if nothing else, expedient.

The daughter is the Greek chorus of conscience and intelligence, attempting to guide Bud, for once in his life, to do the right thing and stay sober long enough to do it. Instead, Bud loves the sudden unearned attention and bonuses, including a personal tour of Air Force One with the president, who urges Bud to just call him Andy.

Costner as the ultimate doofus has some wonderful moments as he tries to fathom what is happening. Carroll realistically portrays the preteen overwhelmed by her unwanted role as the only adult in the room. But, in a stunning cameo, Mare Winningham is achingly impressive as the absent and mentally ill mother. No less is ever expected from this reliable and magical veteran.

The one-man-one-vote theme has been seen on film since the days of Capra and Sturgis. The feelings of despair and helplessness which were pervasive in the 1930s are again being widely felt. Swing Vote addresses those issues with gentle amusement. But the film is more on target in its portrayal of the uncertainty of a single father, struggling with his own deep flaws, which relentlessly sabotage his ability to be an effective parent.

Swing Vote lacks the sharp-edged focus and crystalline point of view of a true political satire, but some of the scenes are memorably hilarious, and the point it makes about a democracy bears repeating. It is family fare despite a sprinkling of crude words and is timely entertainment during this election year.