New Zealand director Niki Caro's latest film is getting a hammering from critics.

The Vintner's Luck had a glittering red carpet premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. It opened on Saturday to a sold-out 1000-seat Winter Garden Theatre and was met with hearty applause. But the critical response has been less generous.

The film, which features Whale Rider star Keisha Castle-Hughes, was dismissed as "an overblown work of amazing silliness" by Hollywood Reporter reviewer Peter Brunette.

He expresses surprise that Caro, "who made the simple and affecting Whale Rider", could make such a "confused" film.

Variety film critic Justin Chang suggested the romantic tale of an angel giving celestial guidance to a French winemaker was Caro's first misstep.

"Niki Caro delivers her least impressive vintage ... In contrast to her moving work in Whale Rider and North Country, [she] never finds the emotional pulse of the story here."

Based on the successful novel by Wellington writer Elizabeth Knox, the film version was praised for its cinematography and production values but panned for its "shambolic" storytelling.

Brunette said the various threads in the novel - winemaking, love, religion and murder - were incoherently assembled.

The New Zealand Film Commission took three films to Toronto - a launching pad for independent pictures - in search of a North American distributor.

The others were the film adaptation of another New Zealand novel, Maurice Gee's Under the Mountain, and the Topp Twins feature, Untouchable Girls.
Under the Mountain won favour with some critics. The children's thriller was praised for its "enchanting use of Auckland's startling landscape".

But some reviews suggest the themes of the original story do not transfer to the big screen.

The Variety review says the film, directed by Black Sheep's Jonathan King, "manages to invoke nearly every genre cliche ever formulated by the lazy mind of man. The plot and basic concept behind the film defy comprehension, and one suspects that both were infinitely clearer in the novel."

Untouchable Girls fared better in initial international appraisals. American critics said the story of the comedy-singers was moving and hilarious.

Reviewers suggested the films may struggle to find North American buyers.

The Vintner's Luck is released here on November 4. Under the Mountain is scheduled for a Christmas release.