January 31, 2009 -- This film is loosely based on events surrounding the Paris wine tasting event in 1976, sometimes called the Judgment of Paris. It film whips together a father-son conflict, a love triangle and a snooty wine mistake into something resembling a plot. The story is totally unbelievable, even though it is based on fact, thanks to some very bad improvisation in the screenplay. It is partially rescued by some good performances by a cast of veteran actors. Some of the younger actors look like they belong on some of those teen soap operas, and unfortunately, they get way too much screen time.
The perfectly-cast Alan Rickman (of the “Harry Potter” films), is the snooty wine expert, Steven Spurrier, of course. He is the one who sets up the blind wine tasting competition in Paris and invites Americans to participate. Bill Pullman (“Zero Effect”) is the finicky and stubborn wine-maker, Jim Barrett. These two fine actors get some good support from Dennis Farina (“Stealing Harvard”), who plays Spurrier's friend, Maurice, and from Eliza Dushku (of the “Tru Calling” TV show), who plays a local bar owner (a fictional character made up for this screenplay). Freddy Rodriguez (“Grindhouse”) and Miguel Sandoval (“The Killer”) round out the cast of capable actors. Unfortunately, two of the main characters in the film, the Ken and Barbie Doll pairing of Chris Pine (“Smokin' Aces”) as Bo Barrett, Jim's black sheep son, and Rachael Taylor (“Transformers”) as Sam, the wine intern, don't work out so well. That part of the film was like a refugee from one of those TV shows like “90210,” or “One Tree Hill”, or “Gossip Girl.”
That whole part of the movie was grating, in a cloying kind of way. Bo Barrett's character seems to be a lot more believable as a lazy, spoiled boob, than he does when he supposedly transforms himself into a responsible adult. There is a really phony plot device involving the loss of an entire vintage of wine due to a dumb mistake. I didn't find it believable for a second, and it never happened in the true story upon which this film is based. Part of the plot (not enough of it) leads up to a blind wine-tasting competition in Paris. When the big scene arrives, it is so anemic it seems almost anticlimactic. Bo Barrett doesn't seem to know how to react in his big scene. He seems much better suited to chasing young women of very modest intelligence around grape barrels. It just goes to show you that you don't send a boy to do a man's job. What this film needed was a whole lot more scenes with the good actors and lot less scenes of those Ken and Barbie Doll types. Either that, or replace those actors with actors who are more convincing. This film rates a C.
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