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‘Butter’ spreads thin on screen Grown-up role for Maguire in ‘Details’

LOS ANGELES, Oct 7, (RTRS): If you didn’t get a big enough serving of politics from Wednesday night’s presidential debate, you can avail yourself of another helping by seeing “Butter,” though this would-be political satire is weak enough that it might more aptly be called “Margarine.” The fitfully amusing movie derives its title from the butter-carving contest that its fiercely competitive protagonist, Laura Pickler (Jennifer Garner), is determined to win, no matter what. Laura lives in a small town in Iowa, where her milquetoast husband, Bob (Ty Burrell), has long reigned as the annual butter-carving contest champ at both the local and state level. We’re not just talking about making small figurines out of butter but rather giant, elaborate, lifelike sculptures shown off in refrigerated, four-sided glass display cases. When the local contest runners tell Bob that it’s time to relinquish his title and let someone else compete, Laura decides she’s going to keep the title in the family. That her main competitor in the contest is an adorable, pint-sized black orphan (Yara Shahidi) newly arrived in town to live with her potential adoptive parents (Alicia Silverstone and Rob Coddry) deters Laura not even a whit.

The obvious inspiration for much of “Butter,” and clearly for Garner’s performance, would seem to be mega-maverick pol, former Alaskan governor and Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Garner, sometimes laying it on too thick, makes Laura seem all ferocious determination and self-confidence, a sort of manic cheerleader who’s not above tripping players on the opposing team. The willing cast also includes Hugh Jackman, who turns up as a none-too-bright car salesman carrying a torch for Laura, and Olivia Wilde as a stripper bent on revenge. Director Jim Field Smith (“She’s Out of My League”) and first-time screenwriter Jason A. Micallef never quite figure out a consistent tone for “Butter,” swinging between broad satire, excessive sentiment and small-town humor.

As a made-for movie on Showtime or HBO back when those channels were still in that business, this little project would have seemed about right. On the big movie screen, “Butter” is spread too thin. (“Butter,” which has been kicking around on the festival circuit for a year, is opening on Friday for a limited theatrical run and will also be available nationwide on VOD.)

Tobey Maguire’s boyish looks have played no small part in landing him a succession of roles as the youthful hero in films such as “Spiderman” or the underdog jockey in “Seabiscuit.” Now, the 37-year-old actor is finally growing up on screen in “The Details,” a dark comedy which marks a return to the lower budget, experimental fare favored by Maguire long before he first donned Peter Parker’s blue and red suit.

Maguire plays Dr. Jeff Lang, a married father who strays from his wife Nealy - played by Elizabeth Banks – by sleeping with a former medical school friend (Kerry Washington). “The Details” will be released on video-on-demand and iTunes Friday, ahead of a theatrical run in November. “I did have a 10-year period where a lot of my time was taken up doing the “Spider-Man” movies and I was heavily identifiable as that character,” Maguire told Reuters of the three films in the series, released in 2002, 2004 and 2007. “Because Peter Parker is such a young and iconic figure, I think there is a heavy identification with me as a more youthful kind of guy,” he said.

Maguire, who made his name playing coming-of-age roles in 1990s movies like “The Cider House Rules,” “Pleasantville” and “The Ice Storm,” said the latest film is tonally very different from anything he has done before. In “Details,” written and directed by Jacob Aaron Estes, Maguire’s Dr Lang battles both raccoons wrecking his back lawn and a marriage that has turned stale. His affair sets in motion a chain of events that escalates into absurdity, involving an extortion, organ donation and murder. Laura Linney, Ray Liotta and Dennis Haysbert also star. “I do enjoy films where the screws come down on a character,” Maguire said of playing Dr. Lang. “I can understand how this guy got to a point where he made a bad decision and then in trying to retrieve that, it all unravels.”

The film casts him in the adult role of father and husband which he plays in real life as well, with his wife Jennifer Meyer and their two children. “It’s great that I’m of an age where I feel like there are more interesting roles and opportunities,” he said. While the filming schedule and promotional duties of “Spider-Man” had limited Maguire’s opportunity to work on other films, the actor is less constrained now. This summer, he shot the Jason Reitman-directed film, “Labor Day,” an adaptation of a Joyce Maynard book about a mother and son who pick up a convicted murderer who has escaped prison. For his next project, Maguire returns to blockbuster territory in Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of “The Great Gatsby,” where he plays outsider Nick Carraway, opposite old friend, Leonardo DiCaprio, in the role of the mysterious and wealthy playboy, Jay Gatsby.

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