September 5, 2008

This Movie Not Likely to Get Better With Age

A GOOD SHOCK might be needed to wake up those who nod off during the slow pacing of "Bottle Shock," a romantic comedy that is as much about whining as it is about wine.

Nonetheless, there is no snob like a wine snob, and thirsty vino enthusiasts can rally around this movie for its vocabulary alone. There's lots of talk about the palate and vintage and sipping and such. What's more, there is the irresistible premise that the California wines of Napa Valley are going to compete with the prissy French stuff.

The movie is set in 1976, the bicentennial, and it's set up like a sports movie with the underdog gaining ground in the last reel.

It's a good idea for a movie about culture clash - replete with British vs. French vs. Yank one-liners - if only it didn't get mired in predictable subplots about father-son relationships and which guy is going to get the blond summer intern who sprays herself with water in the vineyards.

And if only director Randall Miller wasn't so slow about it.

Until the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia holds its planned gala around the theme of Wine at the Movies in February, this will likely be the most wine-conscious film since the much superior "Sideways" (2004). That film turned character development into a thing of joy. Here, the characters just get in the way of the bubbles.

Best of the lot, and almost enough to carry the movie, is Alan Rickman as Steven Spurrier, a struggling Paris wine seller who dreams up a competition between California and French wines to spur business. He's such a snob that we tend to laugh at all his puffing and snorting.

There actually was such a thing as the 1976 Judgment of Paris blind tasting that did much to put California wines on the map. One doubts, though, that much of the subplot of this movie has any relation to truth.

Bill Pullman plays the bankrupt California grape guy. He was a San Francisco lawyer who gave up the stuffy life for the vineyards, but now Chateau Montelena is in trouble with the bank.

His son is a slacker in a bad blond wig who always has a handsome five-o'clock shadow and always wears T-shirts two sizes too small. He's played with a good deal of jubilant enthusiasm by Chris Pine, who really just wants to prove himself - and get the girl.

It ain't over until the stiff French judges admit that french fries really are just greasy potatoes. No, that's another movie. This one needs to prove that California vineyards are really vintage good and that the French need to get their noses out of the air.

The title refers to the shaking around that bottles get when they are transported via jets across the pond. It can ruin them.

One welcomes the elegant vintage talk, but a little more plot, and wit, would have helped.

Mal Vincent, (757) 446-2347, [email protected]

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