© 2008 Ray Wong
The title is a double entendre: it refers to the fact that wines lose their flavors and delicacy right after they get bottled or shaken in travel. It also tells of the shock the French viniculture community was to get from the Californian winemakers in their early years.
Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman) is a British wine connoisseur in Paris. He'd like for his business to pick up and get some respectability, and he's convinced that he needs a promotion. Learning that the Californian viniculture is in its infancy, he decides to hold an "international" wine tasting competition, pitting the French against the Americans. He sets out to Napa valley and lands himself at the Chateau Montelena, owned and operated by Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman) and his son, Bo (Chris Pine).
Jim is a very serious and "pigheaded" man, as his son calls him. Meanwhile, Bo is a stoner, and has no ambitions in life except to eat, sleep, be happy, and sleep with as many pretty girls as he can. Jim gives Bo an ultimatum: either go back to school, get a degree and a job, or get out at the end of the year. Bo begins to question if he's a loser, especially after the girl he really likes, intern Sam (Rachael Taylor), falls for his best friend and coworker Gustavo (Freddy Rodriguez). He wants to prove to his father that he is not completely useless.
Spurrier becomes the local celebrity when the wineries discover who he is and what he's doing in California. Eventually, he is ready to pick his wines for the competition, and he likes Jim's 1973 Chardonnay. However, Jim believes Spurrier -- a "French wine snob" -- is only there to ridicule and humiliate him and the Americans. On top if it, he doesn't believe his Chardonnay, which turns out brown instead of golden in color, is ready and is heartbroken when he finds out Gustavo is making his own wine. When Bo gives the Chardonnay to Spurrier to take back to Paris, Bill believes he's totally ruined, and he'll be laughed at by everyone, and his dream as a winemaker is dashed.
Alan Rickman (Harry Potter) is arguably one of the best actors in the world, and he delivers. As Spurrier, his comic timing is impeccable, and yet he displays the right air of snobbery to offset his funny moments -- that's it, he doesn't think he's funny! Yes, the characters seems somewhat of a caricature, but Rickman's performance is delightfully dry and witty. Bill Pullman (The Grudge) also does a good job as the stubborn and proud man who believes in his dream so much that he's willing to risk it all. Sometimes his character is so serious with a lack of warmth that you just want to smack him. At the same time, Pullman makes us believe that it's a man whose been beaten up so many times that he's desperate for a last chance.
Chris Pine (Star Trek) is amiable as the happy-go-lucky charmer. Still, there's just not enough depth and substance in both the character and Pine's performance to make any significant impression. Freddy Rodriguez (Grindhouse: Planet Terror) fairs a bit better as the happy-go-lucky Mexican-American who knows his wines. His is such a likable character that it's a shame we don't see more of him. Rachael Taylor (Transformer) is almost too cute to play Sam, the girl who likes to get dirt under her nails. But she gives the film a needed boost of female energy; and, yeah, she's really cute.
Based on a true story and written by Jodie Savin (Witchcraft), Randall Miller (Nobel Son) and Ross Schwatz (The Smartest Person Who Ever Lived), the script feels a little light and scattered. There is no strong conflict. We don't exactly know who the protagonists are: is it Jim or Bo, or is it Spurrier? The dialogue is rather standard as well, with events and character development that don't necessarily go well together. Still, the characters are extraordinarily likable and there's some kind of "fable" feel to it. The story is predictable, however, complete with the obligatory spunky love interest and the coming of age part of journey Bo has to go through. The conflicts and problems seem a bit forced as well.
Still, director Randall Miller (Nobel Son) gives the film a pleasant, almost romantic visual style. The California vineyards are gorgeous, and it's a hoot to set the sophisticated viniculture against the Hicksville environment in Northern California. No wonder Stephen Spurrier is such a snob when it comes to the Americans. The middle does drag, and some of the plot lines, scenes and editing can be tightened. The production is good; however, the feel of the mid-70s is a bit off. Sure, there are the hair and the cars and the clothes. I guess the film still has too much of a contemporary look to make us believe it's actually 1976.
Bottle Shock is nothing serious or remarkable, but it's lighthearted and a warm and fuzzy little film that will make you want to drink a bit of wine, eat a bit of cheese, and dance a little dance. So don't be shocked if you find yourself enjoying it with a nice glass of Chardonnay.
Stars: Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, Chris Pine, Rachael Taylor, Freddy Rodriguez, Dennis Farina, Eliza Dushku
Director: Randall Miller
Writer: Jodie Savin, Randall Miller, Ross Schwartz
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexual content and drug use.
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 7
Total – 7.7 out of 10