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  Bottle Shock

Starring: Bill Pullman, Chris Pine, Alan Rickman, Freddy Rodriguez, Eliza Dushku

Directed by: Randall Miller

Produced by: Jody Savin, Marc Toberoff, J. Todd Harris, Brenda Lhormer, Randal Miller

Written by: Randall Miller, Jody Savin, Ross Schwartz

Distributor: Freestyle Releasing


     In 1976, many of Californiaís Napa Valley winemakers sent their products to be judged in a blind taste-test against the most prestigious of French bottles. The contest was largely thought to be a jokeóhow could a group of musky Californiansí wine possibly beat that of sophisticated cultivators of a product that practically ran through their veins?óbut it soon became a harsh reality-check for the snooty judges. As Bottle Shock informs us, the Napa Valley producers won in a landslide, marking an occasion that may not be widely known of today but was indeed monumental enough to merit that a bottle of the winning Chardonnay be placed on display in Washington D.C.ís Smithsonian Institute.

     Bottle Shock tells the storyólikely in broad, fictionalized strokes, but who really cares?óof how the winning wine came to be. Director Randall Miller, writing with partners Jody Savin and Ross Schwartz, intimately focuses the action on one of Napaís many vineyards at the time: Chateau Montelena. The establishment is run by Jim Barret (Bill Pullman), a once-banker who goes into the wine business with a thirst for a quality product and the help of his adventurous son Bo (Chris Pine). Montelena is deeply in debt, racking up generous loans from Jimís old place of work, where he is painstakingly granted them by the doubtful new husband of his ex-wife. Jim desperately needs to churn out a successful bottle to keep Montelena afloat. Joining he and Bo for the ride are Gustavo Brambila (Freddy Rodriguez), their son-of-a-migrant-worker employee who is so attuned to wine that he can blindly identify any bottleís make and vintage with a single taste, and Sam (Rachel Taylor), their attractive viticulture-studying intern.

     The movie also features Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman), the British-national turned failed French-wine-vendor who organizes the focal contest. As Bottle Shock would have it, Spurrier travels to Napa because he has nothing better to do: his shop is only frequented by a lone American (Dennis Farina) who milks him for free tastings and he isnít recognized by any of Franceís great winemakers or wine-critics. The result of his trip, however, represents a complete and utter surprise for Spurrier. Not only are the California wines good in his book; they strike him as being otherworldly. Hence he makes every effort he can to bring notable tasting-talents to judge them in his competition, enacting, as history would have it, quite a groundbreaking occasion.

     Yes, in writing a mere synopsis of the movie, I have spoiled the ending. But Bottle Shock isnít the type of picture that requires any sense of unpredictability to succeed; after about two minutes of introduction, even viewers who donít already know about the story will guess how it concludes. The movie unashamedly adheres to a feel-good formula and is greatly successful as a result. Instead of dwelling on matters of plotóthe history that inspired Bottle Shock is enough to keep it going in a narrative regardódirector Miller is able to enhance the material through small details. While not uncharacteristically fresh or out of the ordinary, each scene in Bottle Shock is marked by subtle touches that make it all the more worthwhile. Take, for example, a rather conventionally-constructed climactic scene in which Rickmanís Spurrier is informed that he is only allowed to carry one bottle of wine onto his France-bound flight from Napa. Instead of reaching for the overdramatic when Spurrier gleefully informs the other passengers in line of his plight, handing out his thirty-or-so surplus containers to those who want to help out with the competitionís cause, Miller merely rests his faith in Rickmanís skilled ability to take command of the situation as an actor. Itís a quiet moment, but one of the most mesmerizing in the picture, speaking substantively to the collaborative nature of the ever-ingenious American Spirit and reveling in Rickmanís involving screen-presence.

     While the segments at Chateau Montelena are never quite as boisterous as those featuring the often-dumbfounded Spurrier, they too offer their fair share of sympathetic characters and compelling subplots. Anchoring the action, Bill Pullman captures both the pains and pleasures of Jimís entrepreneurship, working in harmony with the movieís greater sense of narrative payoff. As Bo, Chris Pine takes a subdued hippy-dippy approach, although he captures substantial emotional-complexity in the process. Bo is very much the center of interaction at Montelena: he sees the need to live up to his dadís lofty expectations, finds himself falling for Sam, gets into a scuffle with longtime friend Gustavo when he finds out Gustavo likes Sam too, and ends up representing Napa at Spurrierís contest. Additionally, Montelenaís two men perfectly represent the oft-discussed generational-gap between the young and old of the 1960s and Ď70s through their interaction. This theme is never explicitly spoken to, but it represents one of the many nice touches found in Bottle Shock.

     Worthwhile adult entertainments are a dime a dozen in todayís movie marketplace. Thankfully, between Bottle Shock and the also-excellent Vicky Christina Barcelona, older viewers seeking fulfilling outings at the local cinema wonít have to look too hard to find them. (Both pictures are showing at a solid amount of theatres.) Bottle Shock may ultimately not resemble anything close to a masterpiece, but itís a well-acted and involving entry into the ďinspired by a true storyĒ arsenal. Even if you arenít remotely interested in wine itself (Iím not), the film makes for an enjoyable sit.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 8.15.2008

Screened on: 8.11.2008 at the Landmark Hillcrest in San Diego, CA.


Bottle Shock is rated PG-13 and runs 108 minutes.

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