Bottle Shock

In 1976, a struggling British wine seller in Paris named Steven Spurrier decided to publicize his business by hosting a blind taste test competition where the great wines of France would be up against wines produced in California's then-obscure Napa Valley. The small Napa wineries surprisingly won both the red and the white categories, and thus was born the classic underdog saga that forever changed the wine industry. Not only was French dominance toppled and Napa put on the map, but wine consumption became democratized, the market suddenly opened up to product from across the world, and the industry exploded.

There's a great story here, but Bottle Shock tells it very poorly. Perhaps afraid that a movie about wine would be too prissy (for whom? Surely not the art house moviegoers who flocked to Sideways), writer/director Randall Miller and his screenwriters, including his wife Jody Savin and neophyte Ross Schwartz (son of Brady Bunch/Gilligan's Island creator Sherwood Schwartz), dumb down the script to the point where it feels more like a beer commercial than a film about wine.

Striving vintner Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman), whose chardonnay won the Paris taste tests, is so combative with his surfer dude son Bo (Chris Pine, sporting decidedly non-1970s biceps and a ridiculous wig) that he actually boxes with him, not once but several times in the film, in violently staged fights with extra "pow!" sound effects. And if there was any real-life friction between Bo and Gustavo Brambila (Freddy Rodriguez), who later left the Barretts' operation to start his own winery, it's depicted in the movie as a trite love triangle involving an entirely invented hippie intern babe (Rachael Taylor), which also carries an uncomfortable undertone of racial superiority.

Although Pullman is good, his character's motivations are laughably written. Only the great Alan Rickman is endurable as Spurrier, even though he too is part of the filmmakers' rampant fictionalizing, being about thirty years older and twenty times snootier than his real-life counterpart. In short, Bottle Shock is a big disappointment, a lunkheaded movie about one of the most refined cultures in the world. Pour it down the drain.