A wine flick that's most unassertive

Posted: August 05, 2008

A cheap table red compared to the rich pinot that was Sideways, the similarly oenophilic Bottle Shock takes place mostly in Napa Valley, circa 1976 - when a few maverick California growers turned out legendarily fine wine, and not a soul took them seriously. That is, until a snooty Brit brought a case back to France for a blind tasting against the world's best known labels, and the Californians won.

A great story - and a true one, more or less - Bottle Shock nonetheless fails to deliver much in the way of entertainment. Like the old pickup that cranky vintner Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman) steers down the dusty Calistoga roads, the film lurches and wheezes, occasionally attaining a good, steady rhythm, only to jolt to a stop again.

Part of the problem with director Randall Miller's shambling tale about what has come to be known as the "Judgment of Paris" is in the casting. Alan Rickman is fine as Steven Spurrier, the haughty oenophile whose Parisian shop is struggling until he comes up with the notion to sample some Napa nectar and get publicity for his efforts back in France. And Pullman, as the debt-plagued patriarch of Chateau Montelena, has the look of a harried dreamer, working the barrels for that perfect vintage.

But too many actors ring wrong, including Dennis Farina as a Spurrier buddy and moocher back in Paris, and Rachael Taylor as a wine country Daisy Duke, the comely young apprentice to Barrett.

More problematic is Chris Pine, playing Bo, the hippie Barrett scion - a deadbeat who rubs his dad the wrong way, and who, of course, ends up saving Chateau Montelena from ruin. There's not much to like about Pine's Bo - and that's OK, there wasn't much to like about Paul Giamatti's Sideways sad sack, either. But Giamatti inhabited the role so fully that liking wasn't an issue. He made the guy real.

Pine, alas, does no such thing. He swaggers around with a stoner smirk, annoying the heck out of his father and running scams at the local bar with his buddy, Gustavo (Freddy Rodriguez).

Pine isn't believable for a second, and his character is key to the story. And then the moment of truth arrives: the judges' samplings of the wines, in a rustic spot "just outside of Paris."

Right. Bottle Shock has a case of the no-budget blues: Clearly, this location is somewhere in Napa, with a fleet of collectors' Citroens parked in front to Frenchify the place.

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.

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