Hollywood Churning out Presidential Contenders

Hollywood is getting presidential this election year, but will moviegoers say they approve this message? Films about U.S. presidents — past, present and fictional — start this week.

•"Swing Vote", opening Friday, stars Kevin Costner as a blue-collar worker who becomes the focus of two candidates (Kelsey Grammer and Dennis Hopper) after an Election Day tie and a ballot error traced back to his vote.

• "Frost/Nixon", based on the play by Peter Morgan (screenwriter of "The Queen"), traces the origins of the fierce post-Watergate interview between British journalist David Frost and former president Richard Nixon. It's directed by Ron Howard and opens Dec. 5.

• "W.", from director Oliver Stone, chronicles the rise of the current president and his relationship with his father, former president George H.W. Bush. It premieres Oct. 17 and stars Josh Brolin as the president, Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush and James Cromwell as the elder Bush.

And after the election dust settles, Michael Moore returns in the spring, back on the Bush-whacking trail with a documentary described as a follow-up to "Fahrenheit 9/11".

It's unclear whether election-year fervor will boost enthusiasm, says Gregg Kilday, film editor for The Hollywood Reporter. "The challenge for the movies is that politics have been so entertaining all year long, that if a movie isn't good, it will pale by comparison," he says.

As escapism, "Swing Vote" stands the best chance.

Costner, who financed the movie himself, says he was aiming for a "Capraesque" story, reflecting first the cynicism many feel toward politicians but shifting to a more hopeful point of view. "He basically says that voting doesn't count for a damned thing. It's just a way to make you feel important," Costner says of his character.

"Frost/Nixon" may have an easier time connecting with today's audience, says Kendall R. Phillips, author of Controversial Cinema.

"My theory would be the Frost/Nixon film would have a better chance at being politically relevant because it's historically removed."

Of "W.," Phillips says the director of "JFK" and "Nixon" may be able to regain his provocateur reputation if the film works. "The thing about Oliver Stone is, when he's making great films, he holds up a mirror to the American conscience."