Bottle Shock: “It’s just that I’m British…and you’re not.”

‘Why don’t I like you?“
"Because you think I’m an ass. And I’m not really. It’s just that I’m British…and you’re not. ”

If there’s a danger in Randall Miller’s new flick Bottle Shock, it’s that it might be just one big pro-America pander. Which, I confess, is not much of a danger, both because it’s unlikely and because it would be refreshing.

This neat little film is “based on a true story” and centered around the 1976 wine-tasting competition in France where California wines beat out French wines in a blind tasting.

It’s really two stories (and perhaps weaker than it could be as a result): The first is the story of affable Brit snob Steve Spurrier (Alan Rickman) who, with his Wisconsinite friend Maurice (Dennis Farina) contrives the contest as a way to raise his stock with the elite French wine culture.

Rickman and Farina are a delight, as might be expected, as Farina mooches off Rickman’s failing wine “Academy” business, and as Rickman travels around Napa valley, tasting a variety of wines along with Kentucky Fried Chicken, guacamole, and whatever else American cuisine has to offer.

This is a fun story and the better (and smaller) part of the movie.

The other story concerns xenophobic, perfectionist, pig-headed wine owner Jim Barrett, who’s watching his dream go down the drain with debt as he refuses to release his wines before their time. (“Gallo” is a name spoken with disdain in this movie.) Barrett is played by Bill Pullman, who seems to be channelling Martin Sheen with this uncharacteristicaclly harsh (but compelling!) character.

A burr under Barrett’s saddle is his son, a fun-loving late-hippie ne’er-do-well named Bo. (Bo is played by Chris Pine, who will probably become a lot more famous once he’s known as Captain Kirk in the new “Star Trek” movie.) As Bo comes out of his daze and starts to take action, he actually pisses his stubborn father even more. (Jim is convinced the wine-tasting is a setup to bash America on the bicentennial.)

This story is a bit sparser and somehow less compelling–perhaps due to shortage of Rickman, though Pullman gives a great performance. It may be because it’s the more traditional of the two stories. Or maybe it was because I spent the whole movie thinking, “Get a haircut, ya damn hippie!”

But it’s not a bad son-vs-father-vs-hot-chick-who-thinks-he-can-be-more story, as those go.

Rounding out the cast is Freddy Rodriguez as the son-of-a-migrant-worker who’s building his own vinery on the sly, Rachel Taylor as the hot-n-sexy intern/love interest, not nearly enough Eliza Dushku as the local bar owner, and character actor great Joe Regalbutto, whose role I won’t elaborate on, since it would be a spoiler.

Other points of interest: Mark Adler’s score recalls (not unfavorably) David Newman; the movie has a nice, authentic ’70s feel, not too camped up or bogged down in bell bottoms and disco; I wanted more from the cinemtography–Napa is beautiful and this doesn’t really showcase that, except in one or two places–but it is a low budget film so I suppose the budget wouldn’t allow for much; and the attitude is affable but not cloying.

On that last point, the moviemakers seemed not to be trying to Make A Point, much, about anything. Rickman brings real humanity to a character who could have been completely unsympathetic (as could Farina’s). Pullman is hard to get along with, but for understandable reasons. Bo is a screwup, of sorts, but he finds in the girl a reason to not be.

It’s not super-deep or nothin’. But it does demonstrate that you can make a good popcorn flick for a few bucks that doesn’t need a lot of profanity, nudity or violence to hold an audience’s attention for a 100 or so minutes.

The Boy sez, “I liked it very much.”

A documentary of the event would also be cool.

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