Based on a true story, and set in 1976, ensemble dramedy Bottle Shock weaves together the stories of a novice California vintner, Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman), his unfocused son Bo (Chris Pine, below right, laboring under a ridiculous wig that marks him a cousin of Garth Algar), and struggling Parisian wine seller Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman). Seeking a way to boost his business and reputation, Spurrier strikes upon the notion of a blind taste test for the French cognoscenti, and heads to California’s then-nascent vineyards, whose purveyors he regards as dilettantes, as a mere formality, to round out his offerings. What he discovers alters the history of wine-making forever.
There’s a deeper, more interesting movie to be made here about the Napa Valley boom, but co-writer-director Randall Miller (Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School) seems happy to aim lower, and play for lightweight delights and diversions. This is most embodied in Jim and Bo’s penchant for sparring in a homemade outdoor boxing ring — an easy, air-quote funny externalization of conflict that masks a great deficiency in storytelling. Miller also stupidly foists a love triangle upon the proceedings, and burns a lot of screen time on scenes that drag on well past the point at which they’ve stopped serving the greater narrative.
That said, the movie looks gorgeous — even on a budget, Mike Ozier’s cinematography captures the caramel-dipped hues of the Golden State’s great outdoors — and for every utterly frustrating or stillborn scene, there are one or two good ones, particularly involving Rickman, as a snobby Englishman in an even snobbier French game. He’s at home in neither world, and watching him explore the mysteries of first encounters with Kentucky Fried Chicken, or guacamole, offers its own amusement. Would that the movie just followed him, and cut out Rachael Taylor’s sassy intern and/or Freddy Rodriguez’s noble, but underwritten Mexican hired hand, who “knows” the grapes because he’s, you know, of the land. For more information, click here. (Freestyle Releasing, PG-13, 108 minutes)