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Bottle Shock

Lightly comic film tells how California wines became stars in the mid-1970s

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A great real-life story -- about an international wine contest held in 1976 that catapulted Northern California wineries out of plonk-y obscurity and into the pantheon of the Great Wines -- gets the big-screen treatment that too often feels like a TV movie. Randall Miller's low-key comedy tells the Cinderella tale of how a handful of Napa Valley wineries catch the palate of Englishman Steve Spurrier (Alan Rickman), a Paris-based wine merchant who travels to California hoping to break the stranglehold European wines have on oenophiles. But Miller too often sketches the scene with stock characters and scenarios (cue 1970s wacky California), including a gratuitous wet T-shirt scene. Any hard realities and interesting insider tales of a tough business are subsumed in endless shots of vineyards mellowing in golden sunlight. Bill Pullman is fine as a determined winery owner (though the script makes him play grumpy TV dad), and many of Rickman's asides and facial expressions are almost worth the price of admission. (His tasting foray into guacamole is note-perfect.) If only there had been less fizz with extraneous domestic subplots, and more body added to the characters that really mattered. Starts Fri., Aug. 22. AMC Loews, SouthSide Works (AH)

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