'Bottle Shock' is diluted and flat

Review C

August 15, 2008|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,Sun movie critic

In a 1976 event that became known as "The Judgment of Paris," California wines beat French ones in a blind taste test. Bottle Shock wastes that intriguing bit of history and some seductive Napa Valley settings on a bland script that's part period piece, part underdog fable.

Alan Rickman swans his way through the role of the expatriate Brit who sets up the contest with wine experts in Paris and then goes looking for the competition. Not even he can bring enough polish or pizazz to this ramble along the back roads of Northern California and through some stubborn pockets of the counterculture nine years after San Francisco's Summer of Love (and seven years after Woodstock).

Bill Pullman has long been one of my favorite actors. Why didn't he ever become a Stewart-Fonda-Cooper sort of leading man? In the '90s, he was often the best thing in movies ranging from Lost Highway to Independence Day. But Pullman can't find much that's touching, humorous or inspiring in the central role of a San Franciscan who moves to Napa to create the perfect Chardonnay. He's supposed to be a maddening perfectionist who rouses awe, rage and strong, if reluctant, affection in his friends and family. He comes off a premature old coot.

Talk about tough love: His way of working out any negative emotions that fester between him and his son (Chris Pine) is to take their arguments into the family boxing ring. (It's only funny once.)

You can see why he does it: His son is either a hippie wannabe or a proto-slacker, and in any case, for most of the movie, a natural screw-up. Yet, Pullman's struggling vintner is just as harsh and scrappy with family friends, like the local boy and natural-born-winemaker played by Freddy Rodriguez.

It may take a tough man to handle tender grapes, but this guy has the pride that cometh before the fall, and having his son rightly call him "pigheaded" doesn't make him any easier to watch.

Under the direction of director Randall Miller (who also helped write the script), Bottle Shock often settles for post-hippie grooviness. Most of that comes from Eliza Dushku as Joe, a savvy, sexy local bar owner, and Rachael Taylor as Sam, a peppy blond wine intern who flashes her breasts the way Claudette Colbert did her gams in It Happened One Night.

The movie keeps reminding you of better films from long ago and not so long ago: If you want some real poetry about wine, rent Sideways.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

ONLINE

See a preview of Bottle Shock at baltimoresun.com/shock

Bottle Shock

(Freestyle Releasing) Starring Bill Pullman, Alan Rickman, Rachael Taylor, Freddy Rodriguez. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexual content and one scene of drug use. Time 110 minutes.

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