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by Peter Sobczynski

"I Can't Believe It's Not A Good Movie!"
1 stars

If someone is going to bother to put the time and energy into creating a polittical satire, it should theoretically achieve two simple goals--it should be funny and it should make some kind of discernible point. Hell, it doesn't even have to fully achieve those points as long as it at least makes some of recognizable effort at pulling them off. The long-delayed "Butter" fails so completely at both, among other things, and takes down so many talented people with it that I found myself coming away from it feeling equally annoyed at its near-total incompetence and baffled that anyone could have possibly thought that this load of drippy cinematic oleo was worth producing, appearing in or releasing, however barely that may be in the latter case.

The film is set in a small Iowa town that comes to life once a year for an annual butter-carving competition. For the past 15 years, the contest has been dominated by dairy-based artisan Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell), whose creations have been inspired by subjects as varied as "Schindler's List," "Jurassic Park" and "The Passion of the Christ," but as the story opens, the people running the contest gently request that he at long last step down and give someone new a chance at the crown. Bob is perfectly fine with this but his wife Laura (Jennifer Garner), who hopes to parlay butter supremacy into the political arena, sees it as a betrayal and decides to enter the contest herself as a way of keeping the title in the family where she firmly believe it to belong.

At contest time, she has only three challengers and two of them--a weirdo butter groupie (Kristen Schaal) and a hooker (Olivia Wilde) that Bob owes $600 to for services sort-of rendered--are easily dismissed. However, there in a true wild card in the form of Destiny (Yara Shanady) a 10-year-old African-American orphan with a fearsome innate talent for the art of butter-carving. What happens next is a web of seduction, betrayal, sabotage and the like that includes not only the above characters but Bob's daughter (Ashley Greene), who hates Dad's new wife but really like his stripper, Destiny's loving-but-befuddled foster parent (Rob Coddry and Alicia Silverstone) and a dim-bulb car dealer (Hugh Jackman) who went to high school with Laura and still finds himself wrapped around her little finger (among other body parts).

With Destiny clearly meant to represent Obama and Laura alternately designed to invoke both Sarah Palin and Hilary Clinton, "Butter" is not exact subtle about its intentions to serve as a satirical look at the 2008 election. This isn't necessarily the worst idea for a movie, although it does seem like the kind of political comedy that "Saturday Night Live" might tackle during an off-year election if there was nothing else of interest going on in the world at the time. No, the problem with "Butter" is contained almost entirely in its slapdash execution. The screenplay by is such a mess that it completely fails on its most basic narrative levels, never mind as sly social commentary, and the direction by Jim is just as nimble and nuanced as one might expect from the auteur of "She's Out of My League." Together, they have created the kind of political allegory that appears to have been made by and for people who only know "allegory" as one of those words that rhymes with "Corey."

What is especially embarrassing about "Butter" is that it takes a subject that is perfectly ripe for satirical treatment and then handles it in such an inane and innocuous manner that it makes the recent disappointment "The Campaign" seem like "Election" by comparison. Regardless of where one sits on the political spectrum, the 2008 election was one in which nearly every aspect--from Obama's rocket-like journey from unknown to being considered by many to be a near-messiah figure, the meltdown of Hillary Clinton as she found her seemingly obstacle-free path to victory undone by a seemingly unelectable outsider, the evolution of Sarah Palin in the glare of the spotlight, the countless dirty tricks and media manipulations--would seem to be the perfect target for someone with a sharp wit and some degree of insight into the contemporary political machine. Astoundingly, the screenplay, near as I can tell, has no apparent idea on its mind other than "Man, politics is weird and filled with jerks." This is the kind of lazy commentary that would seem as lame when overheard at the next table at your local coffee shop but as the thesis of a major film, it just adds another level of lazy contempt to a film already drowning in it. Actually, I am being a little disingenuous because the film does seem to have one idea on its mind--that women involved in the political process are either ninnies, sluts or power-hungry bitches--but the less said about that, the better.

Now let us take another look at that cast list. Jennifer Garner, Hugh Jackman, Ty Burrell, Olivia Wilde. Ashley Greene. Rob Coddry. Alicia Silverstone. These are all good actors and one might ordinarily assume that any movie featuring all of them together must have something right going on with it, even if it is simply the sight of them bouncing off of each other but "Butter" manages to deprive viewers of even that basic pleasure. Coddry and Silverstone (whose return to the big screen is most definitely welcome) come off the best because they are playing two of the few characters that the film doesn't hold in complete contempt. As for Garner, she merely reconfirms what the few people who sat through last year's misbegotten "Arthur" remake already knew--an actress who basically radiates kindness and sweetness should never find themselves playing a one-note shrew--and she compounds the mistake by offering up a faux-Iowan accent that sounds like a party guest doing a middling impression of Marge Gunderson.

For most of the other actors, the best thing to be said about them is that they don't appear on screen long enough for the film to do any lasting damage to their careers--Hugh Jackman's first appearance is so long in coming that the wait generates the closest thing the movie has to a narrative pull and once he shambles on the screen in all his half-baked dopiness, most viewers will wonder why they were waiting for him in the first place. One actor who does make a good impression is young Yara Shanady as Destiny--the part is as lamely conceived as everything else but she brings a natural and unforced charm to it that allows her scenes to go down more smoothly than the rest. She is a find and for her sake, I hope she was able to secure another job before the word on this rancid bit of "Butter" begins to spread.

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originally posted: 10/05/12 12:14:24
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 47th Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 47th Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2011 Austin Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 34th Starz Denver Film Festival For more in the 34th Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.

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  05-Oct-2012 (R)
  DVD: 04-Dec-2012


  DVD: 04-Dec-2012

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