Directed by Randall Miller. Starring Alan Rickman, Chris Pine, Bill Pullman, Rachael Taylor, Freddy Rodriguez, Dennis Farina, Eliza Dushku, Joe Regalbuto, Bradley Whitford. (2008, PG-13, 110 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 15, 2008
Stuff the cork back in: This wine movie was sold before its time. There’s no question there’s a good drama lurking somewhere in this true story of how the wines of Northern California shattered France's oenological hauteur in a blind taste-testing in 1976 (our bicentennial year) or that these actors are all game and competent. However, director and co-writer Miller, a veteran of TV sitcoms and some sitcomlike feature films, is flat-footed and plodding in all the places he should be swift and sparkling, too bogged down in specifics and details where he should be glossy and spry, and too unspecific and generalizing when it comes to the dimensionality of the characters. Pullman earns moments of interest as Jim Barrett, a man who threw his conventional life overboard for a shot at his avocational dream: wine-making. All it seems he has to show for his pursuit is a foreclosure notice on his third mortgage and a hippie surf bum of a son, Bo (Pine). Jim, at least, has kernels of interest and conflict when compared with Bo, who, with his straggly blond hair and young-prince sense of entitlement, is a physical shoo-in for Brad Pitt by way of Lorenzo Lamas’ Lance Cumson in Falcon Crest. His best buddy, Gustavo (Rodriguez), is the son of a Chicano field hand and knows the soil and the distinctiveness of each grape better than anyone in the movie. Still, his storyline gets sidetracked by a love interest and, ultimately, abandoned as the movie saunters toward its climax and conclusion. The woman who causes the friction between Bo and Gustavo is Sam (Taylor), a beautiful wine-making intern who doesn’t mind getting dirty. Perking up the movie is Rickman’s Steven Spurrier, a haughty Brit who curries favor with the French oenophiles. He rubs everyone, except for his freeloading neighbor (Farina), the wrong way. These characters all have potential, and there’s a father-son struggle that’s not unlike the conflict in the great Red River, but instead of emoting, the characters are forced to spend most of their time undramatically sipping wine, swilling it from cheek to cheek with pursed lips as they sample it, and then spitting it out. When in doubt, Miller cuts to a lovely wide shot of the Napa Valley vineyards. But, sadly, his pour is all flat.