Bottle Shock

(2008) ** 1/2 Pg-13
112 min. Freestyle Releasing. Director: Randall M. Miller. Cast: Freddy Rodriguez, Chris Pine, Rachael Taylor, Eliza Dushku, Bill Pullman.

/content/films/3168/10.jpgThe based-on-a-true-story Bottle Shock illuminates how, in 1976, Napa Valley wines proved their international worth in a field previously dominated by European wines. The key event was the Judgment of Paris blind tasting, organized by Madeleine Wine Shop proprietor and "Academy of Wine" founder Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman, in a typically droll performance), portrayed as a social striver likewise looking to prove his worth by creating a little attention.

Spurred on by gadfly Maurice (Dennis Farina in an invented role), Spurrier makes a research trip to Napa Valley. At Calistoga's Chateau Montelena, Spurrier makes himself instantly unlikeable to the winery's stressed-out owner Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman). "You're a snob," Jim says bluntly. "It limits you." The perfectionistic Barrett can see the writing on the wall for his struggling business, and he fears nothing more than failure. To make matters worse, he’s at odds with his slacker son Bo (Chris Pine, soon to be James T. Kirk in Star Trek). Though Jim's not a believer, Spurrier's competition could make the difference for Chateau Montelena, a point not lost on Bo. Tired of being perceived as an unambitious loser, Bo hitches his hopes to Spurrier.

Meanwhile, Chateau Montelena worker Gustavo Brambila (Freddy Rodriguez) harbors his own dreams of crafting the perfect wine (it's all about the dirt under the fingernails) and opening his own business; like many of us three decades later, he "appreciates the sanctity of wine...and can't afford a full tank of gas." When beautiful new "wine intern" Sam (another invented character, played by Rachael Taylor) appears on the scene, Gustavo and Bo compete for her affections, and the comedy takes a roller-coaster course to its happy ending for all (all but French wine snobs, of course). Echoing his father's stated philosophy, Bo asks, "If one of us wins, we all win, right?"

Randall Miller’s direction is sloppy (aside from the lovely helicopter shots of wine country), the film’s stupid romantic subplot is nothing but frustrating, and not all of the characters in the ensemble are well served. In particular, Rodriguez gets senselessly abandoned within his plotlines. Still, Miller and co-screenwriter Jody Savin illuminate some interesting ideas about viniculture and faithfully express the soulfulness wine carries for these characters (one cites Galileo's appraisal "Wine is sunlight held together by water"). The film's Bicentennial-set patriotism may be slightly smug, but it's inherent in this underdog success story. As for the inevitable fudging of fact, it doesn’t bend the true story to its breaking point—on balance, Bottle Shock is an entertaining tour of wine country.

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