Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"Bottle Shock": A slow-blooming vintage

The only real good news I could find out there this morning is that ABC is taking a pilot starring Captain Mal (Nathan Fillion) to series as part of its midseason lineup coming in January. The fairly promising story of "Castle" from writer Andrew W. Marlowe is about a novelist (Fillion) who helps the NYPD.

The order of the day, however, is "Bottle Shock," an odd little flick that - like a fine wine, I suppose - takes a rather long time to get started but delivers a real kick at the finish. And, for the record, though you're gonna hear me complain quite a bit about this one, I certainly fell under its spell by the end.

The story, based on a true tale, is about a French wine contest staged in 1976 by a British vintner (a superbly snotty Alan Rickman) in which the upstart wineries of Napa Valley did much better than anyone expected (I really hope I'm not giving too much away here, but that should be pretty obvious to most people going in, me thinks.)

My problem with the first hour or so of "Bottle Shock" is that its primary characters, even if they're based on real people, just come across as the most cliched composites. Bill Pullman, as the struggling owner of Napa's Chateau Montelena, plays the bullheaded dreamer to the hilt, and Chris Pine as his drifting-through-life son feels just as tired. Freddy Rodriguez, easily one of my favorite actors, would normally add life to any proceedings, but writer/director Randall Miller involves him in a meandering series of subplots, most notably a romantic side road with a Chateau Montelena intern played by Rachel Taylor that just feels tacked-on from the start.

But at its core, of course, this is a flick all about wine and the making of it, and once it gets around to that the movie really starts to get on a pleasant roll. Though it grows tiresome watching Rickman sampling the wines of Napa and philosophizing about their virtues (perhaps if I appreciated wine more I would have gotten into this more too), he's also the instigator of the contest that gives "Bottle Shock" its real burst of intrigue.

Watching the Napa vintners band together to get their wines across the pond has a real "can-do" spirit to it reminiscent of "Tucker" (hey, knock that one if you want to, but I just love it.) The froggy wine critics Rickman assembles are perfectly snooty, and the set-up uses the conventions of the sports drama in a fun, sort-of-new way.

And the road to getting there is filled with the movie's most genuinely funny moments, including a novel way of getting several cases of wine through customs and the building-up of the "blind taste test" as the big turning point (in which an under-used but charming-as-usual Eliza Dushku finally gets to join the fun.)

I know I spent a lot more time attacking this one here than i did savoring it, but I think that's perhaps because my expectations were high going in. The bottom line: If you like wine and can bear with this flick as it slowly develops, it has a finish to please even the pickiest of palates.

And I'll leave you with the trailer for a flick I'm really looking forward to, even if it is directed by Ron Howard. With a script from "The Queen" scribe Peter Morgan based on his own play, Frank Langella (huzzah!) plays recently deposed ex-president Richard Nixon and Michael Sheen plays interviewer David Frost in "Frost/Nixon." Enjoy, and have a perfectly bearable Wednesday.


Bob said...

Yeah, it's not a great movie but it really is fun. You're right though, I did enjoy Pullman and Pine more than you did. I thought the father-son relationship was well played.
"Frost/Nixon" looks to be a heck of a lot better than "W." Should be pretty interesting.
I've put up my review of "Vicky" as well.

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