A series of wildly implausible events in the small town of Texico, New Mexico, results in the outcome of a United States presidential election hanging on the revote of one Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner), a lovable but ignorant alcoholic who has just been laid off from his job. He never actually attempted to cast a ballot in the first place and doesn't appear to have any thirst for power, but neither he nor his precocious daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll) see fit to come clean and let recounts take over. Instead, the mismatched pair is treated to 10 days of invasive media coverage, clumsily personalized ad campaigns, and heart-to-hearts with the candidates. Molly takes care of the mail from concerned citizens. Bud enjoys a great deal of free liquor.

Careful never to tip their hand toward the brow-furrowing Democratic challenger (Dennis Hopper) or the smooth Republican incumbent (Kelsey Grammer), writers Jason Richman and Joshua Michael Stern come close to implying there is no reliable difference between the candidates' platforms. (Bud is an independent, Molly informs him impatiently, "because the two-party system has neglected the needs of the working poor!") If it were true that the candidates were interchangeable, though, the film's central concept would collapse. So Bud eventually dredges up some issues to care about (health insurance figures prominently) and the film plays coy with the candidates' responses.

Swing Vote is absurd, and by all rights it shouldn't work. But Carroll is awesome as the keyed-in 12-year-old: Even when she's squeezing out crocodile tears like she's in some middle-school play, she's immensely sympathetic. And it's impossible to resist such a massive onslaught of resources, music, and transparent narrative shortcuts meant to persuade you to exercise your right to vote. I won't say it's Capra-esque, but it's awfully nice.