The cinematic threequel is often a recipe for disappointment. The Jaws series had already jumped the shark before the third instalment fouled the water with its cheesy 3D money shots. Francis Ford Coppola waited 16 years before giving us a belated conclusion to The Godfather trilogy – it was an offer everyone was quite happy to refuse. Alien 3 has its defenders but it basically poured cold water over Ripley’s heroics in James Cameron’s rip-roaring second film, turning the franchise into a massive bummer.
Of course, there are some great ones too. Return of the King completed the coronation of Peter Jackson’s Award-festooned adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. On the indie circuit, Before Midnight capped off Richard Linklater’s much-loved trio of romantic walk-and-talks, while in the arthouse field Red was a magnificent conclusion to Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colours trilogy.
So what would happen with 3Grapes, shuffling into theatres in the summer of 2020 after a false start due to the Covid-19 pandemic, eleven years after the previous film? Would it manage to recapture the light and fluffy chemistry of the good-natured original, or maybe carry on trying to raise the stakes like its woeful sequel?
The good news is that it certainly gets closer to the gentle comedy-drama of the first movie, but the attractive trio of central characters are now older, wiser and sadder, giving the film a more bittersweet feeling. Which is something to be thankful for after the lame shenanigans of part two.
We pick up with Honza (Kryštof Hádek) and Klára (Tereza Ramba, née Voříšková) in Prague where they are picking up an award for their wine at a swanky ceremony. They are now the parents of two bright-eyed, mischievous tweens and have another kid on the way. Our formerly wayward hero has fully committed to the role of the hard-working vintner and respectable family man.
Yet before the credits have even rolled, his incorrigibly dodgy old pal Jirka (Lukáš Langmajer) has crashed the party disguised as a waiter to steal the first prize from another winemaker (Karel Roden in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo) and bring more trouble into Honza’s life…
Jirka once again heads to the South Moravian wine country with his best friend, this time with his mopey teenage son in tow, to find that domestic tensions are getting the better of the once happy couple. We learn that Klára’s father passed away a few months earlier, leaving her with a sizeable vineyard to manage, and the pressures of running a business and a family are putting a strain on their relationship. Money worries are piling up and there is a grape thief about, adding to their woes.
Jirka claims to be a famous land developer and has an answer to their problems, coming in the form of his “business partner” Miro who wants to buy up all their wine. We can tell he’s trouble right away because he rides into the movie on a black motorbike and wastes no time trying to seduce Klára. Needless to say, he has dastardly motives and a terrible hold over Jirka…
There is also another new character, an attractive, highly motivated South Moravian cop played by Lumíra Prichystalová. She is a little like Simon Pegg’s character in Hot Fuzz – a big fish in a small pond, wanting to catch bad guys while her bumbling partner just wants to catch a few Z’s. Unlike PC Nicholas Angel who is introduced with a snappy montage, Prichystalová is introduced by a gratuitous butt shot. Once that is out of the way, she acquits herself nicely as a sympathetic and intelligent police officer on the case of the grape thieves.
Regarding performances, the central trio of Hádek, Ramba and Langmajer all seem far happier and more engaged than they were in 2Bobule, and the screenplay is much kinder to Ramba this time around. In the previous movie, she was reduced to a nagging girlfriend stereotype, but she has much more to do here. We really feel for her, as a pregnant woman coming to terms with the loss of her father while financial troubles weigh heavily on her.
3Grapes demands to be seen by absolutely no-one, but harking back to the character-based comedy-drama of the original film is a modest return to form for the lightweight franchise. As with the previous two movies, there are plenty of sunkissed scenic shots of the landscape around Pálava, which I found unexpectedly poignant after a year when most of us have spent a good deal of time stuck indoors thanks to the Coronavirus.
Perhaps that is the appeal of the Grapes movies. They are no great shakes dramatically, comically, narratively or cinematically, but they are comforting, reminding of us of good days spent outdoors with friends and loved ones, drinking wine or beer, enjoying a warm breeze and the sun on our upturned, smiling faces.