In the late 1970’s Severus Snape traveled to California at the encouragement of his friend Detective Fontana, to see if they had any good wine. There, he met vintner Lonestarr and his son, Jim Kirk (with a mutated tribble on his head,) who, with the help of Faith, the local bartender/vampire-slayer, changed the world of fine wine forever.
Ok, so that’s not quite the plot of today’s movie, Bottle Shock, but that fanwank mashup might have been better than the uninspired piece of cinema that actually graced America’s screens in 2008. Not that Bottle Shock is a bad movie, it’s a perfectly pleasant diversion, and not a terrible use of two hours. In fact, I spent most of the time I was watching the movie thinking that I’d call it “worth seeing.” However, when it was all over and I was left to reflect upon what I’d just seen, I couldn’t help but identify some real flaws in this picture.
The film’s actual plot revolves around Bill Pullman and Chris Pine as father and son Jim and Bo Barrett. The Barrett’s run a struggling vineyard and winery in California’s Napa Valley. Jim is a lawyer who has given up everything to chase his dream of making fantastic wine. Bo is a hippie who is working for his dad presumably because he likes being in the sun and drinking wine. The year is 1976 and California wines have yet to establish a reputation for quality, so the Barrett’s winery is on the verge of bankruptcy. Everything changes when a British wine snob named Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman) shows up in search of the region’s best wines. Spurrier runs a wine shop in Paris and is hoping to drum up business by running a blind taste test contesting the best California wines against the best France has to offer. (His plan is to win the approval of his French customers by reinforcing their cultural, œnological supremacy.)
The trouble with the movie comes from several sources, but primarily seems to stem from the fact that the true story at the heart of the film, isn’t really long enough to fill out a feature film. So there’s a lot of padding. There’s something of a love triangle between Bo, a token hot blonde Sam Fulton (Rachael Taylor) and Bo’s Buddy Gustavo (Freddy Rodriguez) that feels like the result of having to check the “love interest” box on some screenwriter’s to-do list. Around the mid-point of the film said triangle looks to be taking an interesting turn, but then this gets dropped with no explanation, in favor of a quick trip to predictable town. Gustavo is actually, in a lot of ways, the most compelling character in the film, unfortunately he sort-of gets forgotten in the final act when the padding is over and the film gets on with the main plot line.
Before I get to my conclusion, I need to take a moment to talk about the thing in this film that wrecked my suspension of disbelief, and took me out of the story time and again. I’m talking about the thing that somebody decide to plop on top of Chris Pine’s head.
I’m sure that it was important to establish Bo as this long-haired child of the 70’s and I’m sure that Chris Pine didn’t have the time to grow his hair out to anywhere near the required length, but you’d think that even a low-budget independent film would be able to come up with a better wig than what they have Pine wearing throughout the picture. Seriously, that wig is a bigger film-making mistake than casting TJ Miller. In fact, they could have hired TJ Miller to sit on Pine’s shoulders for the whole movie wearing a sign that said “I am Bo’s long hair”
and it wouldn’t have been more distracting than when sunlight hits that stupid hairpiece.
Those complaints aside, Bottle Shock isn’t without it’s merits. The casting is excellent, and there isn’t a bad performance in the film. Rickman and Rodriguez deserve some extra credit for their performances. Certainly, there are moments where the film is genuinely funny, bringing just enough humor to lighten up what could otherwise be a pretty dull story. The major dramatic moments are less successful, as writer/director Randall Miller seems to love slowing the narrative way down in an attempt to heighten dramatic tension. Unfortunately most of these moments are so completely telegraphed that I wanted to yell at the screen to “get on with it!” I didn’t, because I don’t think that actually helps, but I wanted to. Overall, watching this movie didn’t feel like a complete waste of time, and if I had a “thumbs in the middle” rating, I might give it here. But this blog is all about me having an opinion, so I’m going to go have go ahead and call Bottle Shock not worth seeing.
[Bottle Shock (2008) – Directed by Randall Miller – Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexual content and a scene of drug use]
Some additional thoughts, not necessarily related to this movie:
As I write more of these reviews, I find myself criticizing a lot of movies for being “predictable.” But I don’t necessarily think that’s always a bad thing. Certainly with movies based on a true story, the story is probably being adapted in the first place because a set of actual events actually occurred like you’d expect a movie to play out, leading people to conclude that said events would make a good movie. Moreover, a lot of times a storyline or plot development can be predictable because it’s exactly what should happen in a good, compelling story. I think the problem with these films that I’m criticizing as “predictable,” is that the filmmakers don’t succeed in keeping me interested in the journey to the eminently foreseeable ending. If a movie is interesting throughout its narrative, I’ll stay “in the moment” and not care, perhaps not even realize that where it’s going might be completely predictable.
Or maybe I’m just talking out of my ass.