To put it into mathematical terms, Bottle Shock is one-third of a great movie, surrounded by two-thirds of filler--uninteresting peripheral characters, overdone conflicts, pat conclusions. When it's working, it is a joy to watch; when it's not, you wonder how everyone could have actually been making the same movie.
Bottle Shock tells the true story of Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman), a British oenophile and wine salesman living in Paris, who organized a 1976 blind-tasting in France that put the wines of the French (at that time, the only wines taken seriously throughout the world) up against wines from the Napa Valley, then considered a haven for rednecks and stoners who knew nothing about the art of growing a vine.
Bill Pullman plays Jim Barrett, owner and operator of the Chateau Montelena vineyard; he clashes with the Brit, whom he perceives as a snob that's looking to make the Californians look foolish ("Why don't I like you?" he asks, to which Spurrier replies, "Because you think I'm an asshole. And I'm not, really, I'm just British and you're not."). Rickman's trek through California wine country, and his shocked discovery of the high quality of the product, is consistently entertaining; his return the France and the subsequent competition provides the suspense.
So that's the good movie. But there's all this other stuff happening. Chris Pine (in a shockingly bad wig) plays Jim Barrett's son Bo, so we have an extended (and tiresome) father/son conflict, which is lent no help by some especially clumsy expositional dialogue (one of their conversations begins with the line, "Do you have any ambition at all?," which is a pretty unusual way to start a chat). Then there's Sam (Rachael Taylor), the hot new girl at the vineyard, so he's got a thing for her, but she's into moody, introspective Gustavo (Freddy Rodriguez) so yes, that's right, there's a love triangle too. It's not that there aren't likable characters, but they just aren't very interesting. We keep wanting the movie to get back to Rickman, who is tooling around the Valley in a Gremlin, drinking wine out of jelly jars and eating KFC and guacamole.
The script (credited to four writers, never a good sign) also suffers from a pretty bad case of longing to be Sideways; there are far, far too many misty-eyed, sentimental speeches about wine and all of its beauty and healing powers and so on. Poor Rodriguez gets saddled with the lion's share of this dialogue, and he has understandable difficulty building a character out of this much hokum.
Performances are mostly good (particularly by Pullman and, in a brief but memorable role, Dennis Farina), though Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) only pops in for about a minute and a half and the lovely Eliza Dushku can't have more than a dozen lines.
Rickman, however, is the star of the show--he has a terrific scene at an airport ticketing counter, and once he moves squarely front and center in the film's third act, it finally start to pick up steam, delivering a satisfying conclusion. But it's too little, too late. There was potential buried under the too-large ensemble, too-busy screenplay, and endless helicopter shots, but Bottle Shock plays like what it is: a missed opportunity.
Video and Audio:
Again, our friends at Fox have only provided a screening copy for review on DVD Talk. As is custom, the single-layer disc features unfinalized video and audio presentations, including an anamorphic image that's lousy with compression artifacts and logo burn-ins. The 5.1 audio mix is more acceptable, with a clean center dialogue track and a nice spread of music and effects, but this too may be a work-in-progress.
Bottle Shock comes with a crowded but lively Audio Commentary track, featuring several members of the cast and crew. It's a funny, nicely conversation track, if occasionally self-congratulatory and sometimes overloaded by too many people trying to talk at once.
We also have "An Underdog's Journey: The Making of Bottle Shock" (13:04), the par-for-the-course EPK featurette with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with cast and crew. That said, it is nice to see the real Barretts in the interview mix. They also pop up in the otherwise-unwatchable "Chateau Montelena: One Winery's Search For Excellence," (10:59) which is literally an infomercial, clearly prepared by the winery and no one associated with the film.
Four very brief Deleted Scenes follow, which are all pretty dispensable, though the final trimmed scene ("Bo and Sam Make Love") is one of the corniest clips you'll ever lay eyes on. A Theatrical Trailer (2:26) rounds out the package; it smartly emphasizes the Rickman angle, to a degree that you'd think (as I did) that it was all about that story (as it should have been--clearly someone in the marketing department knew what worked, even if director Randall Miller didn't).
Bottle Shock is so low-key and amiable, and the Rickman thread is so entertaining, that it is tempting to recommend it for those elements alone. But they just don't add up to enough. Rent It, but keep the remote handy.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their two cats in New York and holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.