“Uncorked” pops, straight out of the bottle. A culture-clash comedy that throws African American Memphis BBQ culture into the snooty world of fine wines and the ordained high priests of that world — sommeliers — it has laughs and just enough edge and Courtney B. Vance at his drollest.
And then, it all but seizes up, its heart clogged up with pork fat, soapy melodrama, unnecessary characters and improbable plot twists.
Writer-director Prentice Penny, a producer on TV’s “Insecure,” has everything he needs for a frothy, fun film about worlds washing over each other, and then some. It’s the “then some” that lets him down.
That, and a foolish over-reach aimed at “keeping it real.”
Mamoudou Athie, who played Grandmaster Flash on TV’s “The Get Down,” is Elijah, the third generation of his family to take up the knife, the sauce ladle and the smoker at the family ribs joint Daddy (Vance) runs with Mom (Niecy Nash).
But that’s not where Eli’s heart is. He’s learning wine at his other job, a wine shop, where he’s absorbed enough from the boss to impress the pretty young nurse (Sasha Compère) who comes in knowing nothing about the grape.
He starts comparing wines to pop stars, and she wisely ignores Kanye (chardonnay) and goes home with Drake (Pinot Grigio). Yes, she’s smitten.
Trouble starts when Eli starts skipping BBQ work, which includes learning the biz from his Pops, to hit wine tastings.
Penny contrasts the all-black clientele of the BBQ eatery with the all-white gathering at wine tastings, and makes a choice not to make his movie about “THAT.”
Alas, it’s not about much else either. The “edge” devolves to the hip hop soundtrack, which augments the Memphis flavor that the picture aims for. It’s jarring to be hearing about “b—-es” and “n—ahs” as Elijah tastes this Malbec or that Shiraz.
The wine “study” element is routine in the extreme, an academic “Paper Chase” with study groups, competitive classwork “identification” tests — “Paper Chase” with “Pinot Noir.”
Eli’s classmates are a collection of stereotypes, not characters.
Vance is far and away the best element in the picture, and becomes its sole saving grace as Eli is suddenly shipped off to France, with his entire somm class, for months of study and polish.
Vance’s Louis travels from joking about his boy’s dream — “If you wanna tell people what to drink with their chitlins…” — to indulging his trek to Paris, answering the “How’s it going?” question with “Oh, you know…Black folks still eatin’ pork,” which he pronounces “poke” for authenticity.
Big family meals crack up when the relatives learn of Elijah’s dream — “Sommelier? Like the pirates?”
“No, that’s SOMALIA.”
“You know, Kelly MARRIED a Somali…”
There’s a lot that’s agreeable about “Uncorked,” but this overlong movie loses its fizz pretty much when Eli goes abroad. And as any oenophile will tell you, you can’t get that fizz back once the bottle’s “uncorked.”
MPAA Rating: unrated, sexual situations, lots of profanity
Cast: Mamadou Athie, Sasha Compère, Niecy Nash, Bernard David Jones, Kelly Jenrette, Gil Ozeri and Courtney B. Vance
Credits: Written and directed by Prentice Penny. A Netflix Original.
Running time: 1:44