Theoretically, the big challenge facing the pleasing, drowsy indie comedy Bottle Shock is that anybody who cares remotely enough about wine to seek the film out and view it already knows exactly how it ends. So the tiny army of screenwriters (including director Randall Miller) do something smart, the only thing they could plausibly do: take as given that we know pretty much where things are going to end up, and make the film's primary focus the details of how and where and who. It's less a docudrama of a recent event, and more a study of place and character, with a healthy scoop of oenophile porn on the side.

The story that ought to be so deeply unsurprising is based on the events preceding the 1976 "Judgment of Paris": the British-born owner of a Parisian wine shop, Steven Spurrier (played by Alan Rickman), promoted a tasting contest between French and Californian wines, in France, with French judges. The results of the blind test were entirely in California's favor, and from that moment, only the most stubborn French hard-liners (and I'm not sure if they even still exist, 32 years later) denied that truly special wine could be found from all over the globe.

Bottle Shock looks a few months before all that. Looking to prop up his dying shop, Spurrier travels to Napa Valley looking for good enough competition for the French, finding a colorful world of earthy, passionate people whose lives revolve entirely around wine, focusing mostly on the team working at Chateau Montelena: owner Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman), his lazy son Bo (Chris Pine), resident grape expert Gustavo Brambila (Freddy Rodríguez) and the sexy new intern Sam (Rachael Taylor), whose entire packet of character traits is effectively telegraphed by the words "sexy" and "Sam".

After a summer careening madly between (a lot of) mediocre crap and (a tiny handful of) flat-out great movies, there's something extremely restful about a movie like Bottle Shock: it is not in the remotest sense a challenging or extraordinary film, its humor is the kind that induces smiles but hardly any laughs, its craftsmanship (outside of Mike Ozier's picture-postcard cinematography of Napa Valley, a region virtually impossible to fuck-up on film) cannot reasonably be described as anything other than adequate. But it is a pleasing film in a very simple way. I might go so far as to call it the ideal August movie: it is satisfying without being the least bit taxing; great for carving out two hours to relax without having to dial your brain all the way to zero, a nice treat for those of us who aren't comfortable with being completely sedentary at the movies.

Admittedly, the film is not without its flaws, sometimes gaping ones. To begin with, in a cast that includes some ten important characters, only Rickman and Dennis Farina (as Maurice, Spurrier's only regular customer, a noisy Farina-type from Milwaukee) really make much of an impact, and both do so without having to exert themselves beyond their expected personae - respectively, supercilious Brit and agitated loudmouth. Admittedly, ain't no Brit quite as supercilious as Alan Rickman when he really sets his mind to it, and listening to him purring insults in rounded tones is perhaps all one could truly require of the man. I might almost add that Pullman does fairly well, but I think that has as much to do with the novelty of seeing him onscreen again, after what feels like about 30 years - without peeking, I can't think of anything he's been in since Lake Placid, although I expect I'm just forgetting something. Also, I just admitted that I have strong memories of Lake Placid.

The bigger problem is that much of the film's middle section is left to wander and twist in the wind, particularly the easily-predicted love triangle between Bo, Sam and Gustavo. And like much of the film, the triangle has a sort of taste of racism and sexism that aren't really enough to call the movie "racist" or "sexist", but enough to put a bit of a damper on things.

Still, there are compensations: the pretty cinematography for one, the comforting Rickmanness of Alan Rickman. A great deal of the film, mostly those parts where anything like "plot" is farthest from the screenplay, have a funky '70s groove to them, a sort of mellow hanging-out quality that almost feels like the same thing as "slackness", but doesn't really earn that title given how low the film sets its goals. It's a hanging-out, surfer dude kind of movie, which is surely not to everyone's tastes. But it works on that level, however minor that makes it.

But the biggest appeal of the film - to me at least, and I have a hard time imagine the viewer who'd say elsewise - is how marvelously wine-porny it is. We see the wine get made, we see the wine get drunk, we hear people describe the wine with words like "hint of bacon fat". A quarter of the film, I daresay, hinges solely on the audience agree that wine is pretty and that there is nothing like a wine: ain't no books like a wine, nothing looks like a wine. Between its constant harping on the wonderfulness of wine and its TV-commercial shots of wine and vines, Bottle Shock is absolutely shameless and perfectly seductive. It's not high art, but I can't think of a better way to spend a humid afternoon than to watch people rhapsodise about obscure vintages, and then stop by the local wine shop to browse the shelves with a dreamy look.