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Overall Rating

Awesome: 6.67%
Worth A Look: 0%
Just Average46.67%
Pretty Crappy: 40%
Sucks: 6.67%

4 reviews, 6 user ratings

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Bottle Shock
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Red Red Wine (And A Few Whites As Well)"
3 stars

“Bottle Shock” tells the true-life story of a 1976 Parisian wine-tasting event in which examples produced in California, which were at the time largely derided by oenophiles the world over, were placed in direct competition with the finest French creations for the first time in order to prove that the Europeans did not necessarily have a monopoly on the craft. Since the result of this competition is hardly in doubt for a second--if the French triumphed once again and the Americans slunk home in defeat after being informed that their wine tasted like low-grade salad dressing in comparison to their competitors, do you really think that anyone would have bothered to make a movie about it?--it means that if it is to have any chance of succeeding, it will either have to provide viewers with an eye-opening and highly informed look at the insular world of winemaking or it will have to provide us with characters who are so fascinating to behold that we are willing to follow them around to their preordained destinies. Although not entirely without its charms, the film comes up somewhat short in both those areas and while there isn’t much of anything wrong with it, there isn’t much of anything right with it either.

Most of the film’s action takes place in California’s Napa Valley wine region, which is depicted here as a bucolic paradise in which the weather is always perfect, the wine is always flowing and when you walk into the local bar named “Joe’s,” you discover to your delight that “Joe” is played by none other than Eliza Dushku. It is the kind of rosé-colored vision that will inspire anyone who views it for themselves to seriously consider chucking the drudgery of their 9-to-5 existence for good in order to purchase their own vineyard and begin pressing the grape. As the film opens, we meet one such person in Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman), an ordinary guy who left his former life in order to pursue his dream of being a winemaker. Alas, while he has the vision and zeal for the job, he doesn’t quite have the money and his entire enterprise is teetering on the brink of financial catastrophe. Not helping matters much is his proto-slacker son, Bo (Chris Pine), a surfer dude who would rather spend his days basking in the sun, competing with best friend and co-worker Gustavo (Freddy Rodriguez) for the hand (among other body parts) of hot new vineyard intern Sam (Rachael Taylor) and listening to the finest classic rock that the soundtrack budget will allow (in other words, while he talks about seeing the Grateful Dead at the Cow Palace, what we actually hear him listening to is heavily dominated by the likes of Foghat). Although Jim gets to blow off some steam by slugging it out with his son in a makeshift boxing ring located next to his office, it becomes clear that if things don’t pick up before long, he will have to shut the entire thing down and go back to his boring, button-down existence.

Things are shaken up considerably by the unexpected arrival of Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman), a British wine expert who is trying to put both himself and his Paris-based wine dealership on the map. Inspired by the advice of what seems to be his only steady customer, American expatriate Maurice (Dennis Farina), he comes up with the idea of holding a wine-tasting competition involving the best-known experts in the field in which wines from California will be invited to participate for the first time, partly as a way to acknowledge the Bicentennial but mostly as a gimmick to inspire more attention for his business concerns. Not particularly expecting to find anything particularly outstanding, he has a fortuitous run-in with Jim and finds discovers that his 1973 Chardonnay is really quite good and is only the tip of the iceberg in regards to excellent local wines. Before long, all the vintners in towns are proffering their wares to Spurrier in the hopes that he will consider them for the contest. The only one who doesn’t get caught up in the frenzy is Jim himself--he is more consumed with his financial problems and Gustavo’s not-so-secret plans to produce his own wine and besides, he is also convinced that the contest is rigged in order to celebrate the French and humiliate the Americans. He refuses to allow Spurrier to use any of his own wine and to make matters worse, he is facing imminent doom now that over 500 cases of otherwise perfectly good wine has now taken on a sickly brown color. Seems like a perfect time for his layabout son to finally pull himself together just in time to get his dad’s wine entered into the contest and to get to the bottom of the discoloration mystery, don’t you think?

As my sum total of knowledge regarding the ins and outs of the wine industry is practically nil (I own exactly two bottles of wine--a Blue Nun that I acquired strictly for the ironic value and a bottle of the Francis Coppola sparkling white wine that he named after daughter Sofia, easily the greatest wine named after an Oscar-winning screenwriter since the 1932 Ben Hecht Ripple), I came into “Bottle Shock” hoping to learn a little something about the history of recent American wine production and how its fruits were suddenly considered worthy by the palates of the world after decades of scorn and rejection. However, this is not the kind of movie that it wants to be--it is more interested in coming across as a combination of “Rocky” and “Sideways” with only a smattering of detail thrown in here and there for those looking for something a little more informative. That isn’t necessarily a bad approach for a film like this to take but the problem is that the taint of authenticity that might have made it into something special is nowhere to be found here--the characters and situations come right out of the Screenwriting 101 handbook and when things slightly off the beaten path do crop up (such as the stress-release boxing or Joe the bartender), they come across as too self-consciously quirky and clever by half. Now I could be wrong--maybe Jim and Bo really did pound the stuffing out of one another on a daily basis and maybe Joe really was the hottest bartender in the history of mixology--but even if I was, it wouldn’t matter that much because co-writer/director Randall Miller hasn’t figured out a way to make those details seem real regardless of whether they were true-to-life touches or not.

There is one really good performance in “Bottle Shock” and that is the one turned in by Alan Rickman as Steven Spurrier. Although he is best known for playing outsized villainous types in such films as “Die Hard,” “Sweeney Todd” and the Harry Potter extravaganzas, he has slowly but surely been carving out an equally impressive resume of smaller and more nuanced portrayals in films as diverse as “Sense and Sensibility,” “Love Actually,” “Snow Cake” and the great “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.” Although his work here will hardly go down as one of his great performances, he is very funny as the oenophile whose excessively cultivated airs win him little respect either here or abroad and are forgiven only by the fact that he is really and truly passionate about the subject of wine, which he considers to be an art form as challenging and rewarding as any other. Dennis Farina also gets in a few zingers as his expatriate sidekick, though it is monumentally depressing to here this quintessential Chicagoan playing a character who proudly admits to actually hailing from Milwaukee. By comparison, the other actors never quite manage to engage us for the most part. Rachael Taylor (whom you’ll recall as the hottie brainiac from “Transformers”) looks great in short-shorts but it quickly becomes evident that she has nothing much to do here besides looking good in short-shorts. As the nominal hero, Chris Pine overdoes the goofball pseudo-hippie shtick to such a degree that it is hard to determine which is less convincing, his performance or his hair extensions. (He will next be seen, by the way, as the star of the next “Star Trek” movie--is it possible that J.J. Abrams has actually managed to give us a Captain Kirk that makes William Shatner seem restrained by comparison?) Despite their monologues professing their shared love for the time-honored craftsmanship that goes into making a quality wine and their regrets that such traditions are fast disappearing in an effort to make them faster, cheaper and more consistent in terms of taste, neither Bill Pullman nor Freddy Rodriguez are especially convincing as the budding vintners--compare these moments to the famous scene in “Sideways” in which Virginia Madsen talks about the joys of Pinot Noir and you will see the difference between someone who really convinces you that they know the stuff inside and out and someone who is just going through the motions.

Outside of Pine, there is nothing really awful about “Bottle Shock” and those viewers out there looking for nothing more a simple tale of an underdog triumphing against incredible odds may find themselves succumbing to its charms. However, anyone looking for anything more than that is likely to come away from it somewhat disappointed. In the end, the film is kind of like a mass-produced brand-name wine that you might pick up at the grocery store one night because it is on sale. It tastes okay, the price is right and at the end of a long day, it might even come across as somewhat refreshing but when you put it up against something really good and really original, it instantly fades away from the palate and the mind.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16939&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/06/08 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2008 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/21/10 Maya This is a wonderful film! 5 stars
2/21/10 Cat The film was good when Alan Rickman was in it. Needs less cliche more history. 3 stars
5/19/09 neeon Unbelievably bad. One dimensional, comic book characters. 1 stars
9/03/08 Sully Made-for-TV-after-school-movie. The wine bottles had bar codes!not until the '80's, lame... 3 stars
1/21/08 anya great film! 5 stars
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  DVD: 03-Feb-2009


  DVD: 03-Feb-2009

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