Butter: Jim Field Smith’s Debut, Starring Jennifer Garner and Alicia Silverstone

A cast of appealing actors, including Jennifer Garner, Ty Burrell and Alicia Silverstone, try hard to bring life, audacity and humor to “Butter,” the wannabe biting satire which represents the disappointing  feature directing debut of Jim Field Smith.

The film has been sitting on the shelves of the Weinstein Company for over a year. It received its world premiere last September at the Toronto Film Fest, where it played to a decidedly mixed response.

Harvey Weinstein is an avid movie lover and a shrewd marketing expert, so my guess is that the company did not know what to do with this v soft, not very clever socio-political satire, which is crude rather than rude.

A spoof of Sara Palin versus Barak and Michelle Obama?  If so, why did not the distributors release the picture last year, when Palin occupied front-page news.  Now she’s relegated to one big joke, lampooned on SNL and other shows, and made even more of a caricature after Julianne Moore impersonated her so impeccably in the HBO’s telefilm.

“Butter” is opening theatrically next week (October 5), hoping to benefit from the charged political climate of the upcoming November Presidential Elections.

The premise for this small-town comedy, haphazrdly scripted by Jason A. Micaleff,  is not bad.  But the politics of the comedy is so broad and vague that it’s hard to tell who would be pleased by it, liberal viewers, who might root for the light parody of the Republican race for top office.

Playing for a change a major role, the talented Jennifer Garner is cast as Laura Pickler (tribute to Laura Bush?), the ambitious, occasionally ruthless Tea Party-style candidate.

Laura seems upset by what she perceives as her victim status, claiming “I’m sorry I was born tall and white and pretty and I haven’t sat in front of the TV eating pork rind and soiling myself.”

Laura is married to the “Elvis of Butter,” the carving whiz Bob (Ty Burrell), who for decades has triumphed at the town’s annual contest with his epic scale tableaux. Morality and ethics are beside the point, as the recreations include The Last Supper and Schindler’s List.

However, the organizers ask him to step down in order to give newcomers a shot, so Garner, irrationally offended, takes up the spatulas in his place, and finds herself pitted against a stripper (Wilde) to whom Bob owes money.  Her other opponent is a sweet, good natured African-American girl named Destiny (Yara Shahidi), fostered by two loving lefties, Alicia Silverstone and Rob Corddry.

There is, in fact, another contender: a cat-mad Bob-groupie (poorly conceived and poorly played by Kristen Schaal).  But the film’s worst turn is given by Hugh Jackman, who is miscast in a cameo role.

The movie generates some chuckle rather than laugh-out jokes concerning red tape and the trials and tribulations of ritualistic regional contests.

Technically, the film is raw, which could be a function of the budget and/or the lack of experience of the tyro director.

All the actors, especially Garner, are too broad, an indication that they were defeated by the material and/or misguided by the director, who also stumbles with according the right tempo for his comedy, in which every scene is different.