Friday, August 22, 2008

Movie Review: Bottle Shock

Bottle Shock has the look and feel of a nicely-photographed, well-cast indy movie...for about half of the movie. The other half of the movie, unfortunately, thinks it is a Hollywood movie about '70s stoner-style kids, with a hacknied plot about an uptight father trying to straighten out his college-age son, and a potentially more interesting plot about a talented winemaker trying to break out on his own that gets lost in the shuffle.

Alan Rickman's part of the movie is much better than Bill Pullman/ChrisPine's part of the movie. Rickman plays a stodgy Brit living in Paris running a wine shop. He and American ex-patriot Dennis Farina sit and discuss wine. Rickman, not being French, is given no respect by the French wine critics. He and Farina come up with an idea (this being the summer of '76) to organize a blind taste test of American and French wines in honor of the American bicentennial.

In California wine country, Bill Pullman is running a failing vineyard. You know it's failing because he's had to go to the bank again for another loan on the place which already has multiple loans outstanding. His son, played by Chris Pine seems to help some with the business when he isn't busy having sex, surfing or smoking dope. He's friends with one of the vineyard employees, Freddy Rodriguez (who is terrific in a part that isn't fully developed). Rodriguez plays a whiz at identifying wine types and vintages in blind tastings. He is secretly working with his father to create their own wine.

They're joined by Rachel Taylor who, sadly, has little more to do in this movie than be eye candy. Eliza Dushku, practically the only other woman in the movie, plays a ballsy bar owner.

When Rickman goes to California in search of interesting wines to test, Pullman's wines are among the ones he tries and likes. While Rickman's character is a wine snob, and is convinced of the superiority of French wines, he clearly thinks the American wines have improved beyond that 70s favorite, Gallo Hearty Burgundy.

The middle of the movie gets very muddy; still has plenty of nice photography and shots of people enjoying wine on beautiful California hillsides. But the stoner son suddenly goes off and gets money from a relative and you don't know who she is until later in the movie. The stoner son and the eye candy jump from bed to bed without giving it a second thought (sure there was some of that in the '70s but...). The movie regains its focus and its humor when the stoner son helps the British wine snob get fellow travelers to hand carry two cases of wine so the wine won't be subject the rigors and cold of the plane's cargo hold.

Finally, the wine arrives safely in France, and the famous blind wine tasting, The Battle of Paris, begins. It's no surprise now, but two American wines take top honors which stuns the French. One of those wines is from the failing vineyard, so the father's business is saved.
The implication is, however, that the wine snob's business may have gone from slow to completely dead after the competition, for helping to show that French wines aren't necessarily the best.

I really wanted to like this movie, but I was somewhat disappointed. I like clever movies that don't rely on Hollywood tropes. Part of the point of a good indy movie is that it doesn't need every silly Hollywood convention. When the movie stayed true to the story of wine lovers and their various competitions, it was a much better movie. Rickman was very good, so it's worth going to see it if you're a fan of his.

While the production values were generally pretty good, and the costumes were always spot-on, sometimes the lighting, sound and editing were off. The movie also had an annoying number of things from the '80s showing up in the '70s, like "modern" wine labels, recycle deposit
information on wine bottles and UPC codes. But, the biggest problem with this movie is that it was trying to combine the charm of an indy movie with the plot devices of a Hollywood movie. Kind of like trying to blend cabernet and riesling grapes and wondering why that blend
doesn't work.

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