Bottle Shock’s Bill Pullman (left) and Chris Pine will make you gripe over grapes.
BOTTLE SHOCK Directed by Randall Miller, with Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, Chris Pine, Freddy Rodriguez, Rachael Taylor and Dennis Farina. An Odeon Films release. 108 minutes. Opens Wednesday (August 6). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NN
Movie characters who really appreciate wine are tough to pull off convincingly. Too much dialogue about delicate bouquets and oaky noses and they sound, well, snooty; too much time spent drinking and talking and they look like lushes.
Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor got it right in Sideways, using Paul Giamatti's monomaniacal focus on his wine-tasting trip to signal his disconnection from the real world. Seriously, no one needs to get that angry about the possibility of drinking Merlot.
The producers of Bottle Shock have taken away the wrong lesson from Sideways. They haven't concluded that the film's success means there's an audience for dark, adult comedies; they've concluded that people want to see more movies about wine.
Bottle Shock is about wine and the people who love it. Set in 1976, it's a celebration of the moment in time when a California Chardonnay came in first at a blind tasting against the finest French wines, exploding the notion of French wine superiority and putting the Napa Valley on the international map.
The screenplay, by Ross Schwartz and the husband-and-wife team of producer Jody Savin and director Randall Miller, is your standard underdog story, with a bunch of cookie-cutter characters plodding along the path to their eventual victory.
You got your dreamer, vintner Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman); his rebellious, long-haired son (Chris Pine); the son's ethnic buddy (Freddy Rodriguez); and the hot, frequently braless blond chick (Rachael Taylor) who comes between them. (Guess which one of them was invented for the purposes of dramatization.)
As British expat Steven Spurrier, who orchestrated the blind tasting to promote his struggling Paris wine shop, Alan Rickman glides through the proceedings like he's in a different movie entirely. After Sweeney Todd and the Harry Potter movies, he must have been happy to be able to wear pants at work again.
Yes, yes, I'm sure the project was in development long before Sideways opened, but there's just no way it would have been given the green light without Payne's film racking up those Oscar nominations - especially given its inconsistent tone, sluggish pacing and clumsy attempts at high drama. Even the perfect Chardonnay ain't curing cancer, folks.
I was really surprised to discover director Miller has two decades of TV and movie credits under his belt. Bottle Shock is so haphazardly constructed that I figured he had to be somebody's moneyed nephew. He may be a diehard oenophile, but he doesn't know the first thing about putting a movie together.