It's interesting, given how the actor has built so many exquisite characterizations on the foundation of a certain look, that of a man who has consumed one too many sour grapes. Rickman plays Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant living in Paris. In 1976 Spurrier traveled to Napa, Calif., to see, and taste, what he might bring back with him to Paris and a wine-tasting event, pitting the celebrated French labels against the Napa Valley upstarts. The tasting was blind; the judges were French; the winner was a chardonnay produced by residents of Calistoga, Calif. And with that one seismic shift, California wine was a joke no longer.
It's an interesting true story, and a screenwriter or team of writers could go various directions with it, successfully. "Bottle Shock" never makes up its mind, though, regarding its focal points. For a while it showcases Jim Barrett ( Bill Pullman), who risks everything on his vineyard. For a while after that, it follows his strained relationship with hunky slacker surfer-dude son Bo (Chris Pine). Then "Bottle Shock" drifts into a romantic triangle among Bo, the conveniently located vineyard intern (Rachael Taylor) and Gustavo (Freddy Rodriguez), who has wine and soil and good taste in his soul.
The film is based on fact, but its texture is such that even the true bits feel trumped-up, and the fictional components add only the phoniest sort of conflict. What does it add to have Jim and Bo work out their angst in the boxing ring? Not enough. Spurrier's spongy Paris neighbor, an American played by Dennis Farina, is written as a sounding bound and a banter-dispenser, but the banter provided by screenwriters Jody Savin, director Randall Miller and Ross Schwartz is pretty watery.
Maybe I just liked "Sideways" too much. On the other hand, "A Good Year," another wine-obsessed entertainment, didn't quite work the way "Bottle Shock" doesn't quite work.
The editing rhythm is all wrong: frantic, hyper-indicative (all those '70s-TV-style reaction shots), impatient. Director and co-editor Miller tries to jolly everything along. Only Rickman can be relied on to maximize a minimally worthy zinger. And it is fun to see Rickman behind the wheel of a Gremlin, wishing he were anywhere other than Napa.
MPAA rating: PG-13 (forbrief strong language, some sexual content and a scene of drug use)
Running time: 1:50
Opening: Wednesday at AMC River East 21, Landmarks' Century Centre Cinema, CineArts 6 in Evanston, Glen 10 in Glenview and Landmark's Renaissance Place in Highland Park
Starring: Bill Pullman (Jim Barrett); Alan Rickman (Steven Spurrier); Chris Pine (Bo Barrett); Rachael Taylor (Sam); Dennis Farina (Maurice); Freddy Rodriguez (Gustavo)
Directed by: Randall Miller; written by Jody Savin, Miller and Ross Schwartz; photographed by Michael J. Ozier; edited by Randall Miller and Dan O'Brien; music by Mark Adler; production design by Craig Stearns; produced by Savin, Miller, J. Todd Harris, Brenda Lhormer, Marc Lhormer and Marc Toberoff. A Freestyle release.