Back in 1976, while Americans were basking in the Bicentennial and patriotism fever, the United States was throwing its weight around at an auspicious gathering across the Atlantic Ocean. In May of that year, a wine-tasting competition in Paris sent shockwaves among oenophiles everywhere when judges wound up acknowledging the excellence of California wines. The triumph of Chateau Montelena, a fledgling Napa Valley winery, opened the doors to wine's global democratization, with vintners from Chile, Australia and the like soaring to intoxicating heights.
The "Judgment of Paris" is a fun, interesting and (comparatively) little-known story seemingly ripe for movie magic. Unfortunately, Bottle Shock, which dramatizes the events leading up to that momentous occasion, doesn't quite hit the spot. The film supplies a handful of inspired scenes -- how could a yarn about an underdog making good and French elites getting their comeuppance not have its merits? -- but ultimately Bottle Shock seems to have been served before its time.
Director Randall Miller interweaves the parallel tales of two entrepreneurs longing for success. In Paris, British wine merchant Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman in pitch-perfect snob mode) finds that expertise alone can't win him respectability in French society. Making matters worse, his sole customer appears to be an American expatriate (Dennis Farina) who grumbles that Spurrier only sells French wines.
Spurrier hits upon an idea to raise his profile, coordinating a blind taste test that pits French potables against the Napa Valley upstarts. And so the uptight Brit travels to Northern California, rents a Gremlin (it's the Seventies, get it?) and goes searching for the best that the Golden State has to offer.
That search eventually leads him to the rustic hamlet of Calistoga, where attorney-turned-vintner Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman) and his long-haired hippie son, Bo (Chris Pine), are trying to make a go of Chateau Montelena. Jim, a workhorse struggling to keep the business afloat, is frustrated by his son's devil-may-care attitude and general dearth of ambition. Bo, meanwhile, finds himself drawn to the winery's hot intern, Sam (Rachael Taylor).
Bottle Shock does not lack for storylines. The problem is just that most of 'em aren't particularly interesting. Jim and Bo (not the real-life ones, mind you, but the movie versions) are underwritten archetypes too dull to whip up much rooting interest. Pullman and Pine trudge ahead admirably, but gruff and ne'er-do-well have their limitations when it comes to empathy. The screenplay by Miller, Jody Savin and Russ Schwartz largely eschews nuance, opting instead for on-the-nose dialogue as obvious as Mark Adler's syrupy score. A love triangle involving Bo, Sam and a Chateau Montelena employee named Gustavo (Freddy Rodríguez) is especially tedious.
And yet Rickman comes close to saving the movie from mediocrity. Steven Spurrier -- effete and snobbish, and yet imbued with an endearing bit of wariness -- is the sort of role that the actor tears into with characteristic aplomb.
As is typically the case with Fox releases, the review screener does not represent final product and therefore precludes any meaningful assessment of video and audio quality. The disc provided was hampered by aliasing and grain.
See above. With that caveat, the 5.1 Dolby Surround was surprisingly immersive, particularly in a few scenes involving rain. Optional subtitles are in English and Spanish.
A commentary with Miller, Jody Savin, Ross Schwartz, Chris Pine, Bill Pullman, co-producer J. Todd Harris, co-writer Lannette Pabon and Eliza Dushku (who plays a Calistoga bar owner) is full of amusing anecdotes and information.
An Underdog's Journey: The Making of Bottle Shock (13:04) is standard promotional fare featuring interviews with cast, crew and the real-life Barrett father and son. Also shamelessly promotional is Chateau Montelena: One Winery's Search for Excellence, which is strictly a 10-minute, 58-second infomercial for the label.
Rounding out the supplemental material is a theatrical trailer and four deleted (and unmemorable) scenes with an aggregate running time of three minutes, 30 seconds.
Alan Rickman hits all the right notes, but the makers of Bottle Shock had the misguided notion that they were making an ensemble comedy.