A cast of strong actors needs dialogue with punch
Last week the multiplex sign trumpeted Samurai Pie, Death Race, Disaster Movie,
and The House Bunny. What’s a reviewer to do? A lone theater had a pre-release
screening of Bottle Shock a movie riding into town this week on the shoulders of
Alan Rickman and Bill Pullman. Problem solved. Have you ever been the only, I
mean only, person in a movie theater? The experience reminded me of why we love
to go to movies in the theater instead of our living rooms. We need to feed off
the laughs, groans, sighs and other subtle reactions of a crowd. Watching alone
is a little like sitting up in a coffin.
And still, it was a fine evening full of pluses and a few minor minuses. The script is pale, not bad, but pale. A cast of strong actors needs dialogue with punch if the lines aren’t to float gently to the floor. As if in compensation, the undulating landscape of the Napa Valley wine country is filmed by truck and plane in glorious greens and yellows. The vines are planted in straight rows up and down the hills to the horizon. Up a long dusty road lies a small family vineyard, Chateau Montelena.
In this dazzling setting, hardworking Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman) is trying to make a success of his passionate search for the perfect chardonnay, no thanks to his slacker son Bo (Chris Pine) who idles his life away on girls and beer (what else do slackers do?). An unlikely apprentice arrives in the lovely form of Sam (Rachel Taylor) who steps out of her jalopy and into the family chemistry.
In Paris, wine shop owner Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman) sees himself as wine educator to the world. His empty shop is no more a power base in France than the Chateau Montelena is one in California. California needs Spurrier and Spurrier needs California. The arrogant fellow flies to the valley where he drives a battered AMC Gremlin (It’s 1976) through the valley looking for a wine that might beat the French in the blind taste contest he has devised. You could spin the plot with a blindfold on but guess what: it’s a true story. The Americans won, and California wines went on the map.
“We’ve shattered the myth of the French vine.” It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving guy than Bill Pullman’s Jim Barrett. Pullman gives a very fine understated performance that shows Barrett’s bitterness, his defeat before victory, and his isolation. Chris Pine’s slacker isn’t a bad guy, just a lazy one on the edge of redemption; Rachel Taylor shines as Sam the apprentice. You’ll learn a lot about wine making in this film in a very enjoyable way. And you may feel too that these actors are far too good to be let down by a screenwriter who should have gone back to his computer to polish one more draft. Only the dialogue is pale; everything else sparkles.
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