With the runaway success of Sideways you just know the general public is ripe for a good wine movie. Even better, the concept here (at first blush) is even better than Sideways and the filmmakers have gotten Alan Rickman involved too. So how did things go so terribly wrong? Well, they violated rule No. 1 of storytelling: they forgot what story they were trying to tell.
The plot of Bottle Shock is the real-life story of how California wines came to prominence in the great Paris blind tasting of 1976. The film was shot in Napa and Sonoma; that authenticity shines through in the beauty of the scenery. Rickman enters the story as a British wine shop owner living in Paris - he's looking to pit the traditional French powerhouse against the California upstarts. He travels to California to find a few wines to compete, figuring the Americans will be trounced. How wrong he is! Sorry, couldn't resist a marketing exclamation.
The cast here is large, and somewhat in charge. The aforementioned Rickman, Bill Pullman, Chris Pine (of the new Star Trek fame), Eliza Dushku, Freddy Rodriguez, and Rachael Taylor are some of the names you might recognize. Pullman plays the owner of Chateau Montelena; his son is played by Chris Pine. The California wine makers are struggling, dismissed by the French and the world as interlopers. Pine is directionless, a product of the '60s, and he chafes under Pullman's rigid rule. There's conflict No. 1. You've also got Rickman being won over by the wine, the French just in general, a bizarre love triangle, Freddy Rodriguez versus the world, and racism thrown in for good measure. Somewhere in there is the specific problem with this film, only the effort is so unfocused that it's tough to point out exactly what is wrong here.
Let's get back to the complaining. This movie, for some odd reason, decides the main story isn't the pursuit of wine perfection. It's not really French snobbery versus American innovation either... no, the real story is familial drama. Pine and Pullman yell at each other throughout the two hours. Though if you've ever seen a movie you can see right through it. Rachael Taylor plays the eye candy (she has a scene where she washes out the grape thrasher... as all the boys look on and nod) but she's used dreadfully and her character's motivations are all over the place. Freddy Rodriguez is an employee of Pullman (and a great pal to Pine), but he dreams of making his own lovely wine one day. All of this would be acceptable if the wine wasn't ignored throughout so that we could be treated to a melodrama instead.
There's a chance that there is a good film in here somewhere. Perhaps an edit or two, a script modification, and a little clarity on what the story is are needed. I'm not interested in love triangles. Any romantic comedy can get me that. A father-son dynamic where the kid isn't living up to expectations? Somehow I think that's been done before too. What I wanted to see was the story of the tasting, or the story of California wine making. What I got was something a little less tasty.