Year of the Comet (1992) / Adventure-Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for brief nudity, some violence, and brief language
Running Time: 91 min.
Cast: Penelope Ann Miller, Tim Daly, Louis Jordan, Art Malik, Ian Richardson, Ian McNeice, Tim Bentinck
Director: Peter Yates
Screenplay: William Goldman
Review published March 31, 2007
Some might call this an old-fashioned romantic adventure, while others, like myself, would just call this a trite attempt at crafting another mid-80s throwback like Romancing the Stone, The High Road to China, and in the lighter respects, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Trouble is, Year of the Comet falls short in all of the important areas, with the primary deficit coming from the featherweight charisma of the romantic leads. Tim Daly (The Associate, The Batman/Superman Movie) may have a certain "hotness" factor for some female viewers, but he's in over his head in a film that asks for someone more formidable, charming, witty, and devil-may-care. He's no Cary Grant, Harrison Ford, or Michael Douglas -- heck, he's not even Tom Selleck. What he is is a placeholder hero suited for television films, and that's exactly what the film he is in feels like -- a made-for-TV timewaster that somehow got the bucks to get the push to the big screen.
The film starts off with 28-year-old wine expert Margaret Harwood (Miller, Kindergarten Cop) being sent to Scotland in order to fulfill a task given to her to prove her worthiness in making decisions for her father's wine-selling company. While at the estate, she stumbles upon a giant bottle of early 19th-century wine (1811, to be precise -- the titular "year of the comet") that, according to the label and emblem on the ornate cork, most likely would have belonged to none other than Napoleon Bonaparte himself. Upon hearing of the discovery, Margaret's father sends his cocky, uncultured assistant, Oliver Plexico (Daly), to help her get the bottle back safe and secure, What they don't know is that there are men in the area willing to kill for the bottle, not because it may be worth millions, but because somewhere on the container may be a formula written by a scientist they've been putting the squeeze on to cure the human aging process.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Year of the Comet is that it is made by veteran filmmakers whose body of work is generally far better in quality than evidenced here. Peter Yates is a two-time Academy Award-nominated director responsible for Best Picture nominees Breaking Away and The Dresser, not to mention other acclaimed works like Bullitt, Murphy's War and The Hot Rock. Speaking of The Hot Rock, that 1972 film marked Yates' previous collaboration with Comet screenwriter William Goldman, himself a two-time Oscar-winning author for All the President's Men and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, as well as such films as The Princess Bride (based on his book), Misery, Marathon Man, A Bridge Too Far, and the 1975 version of The Stepford Wives. Year of the Comet arguably represent the slightest, least significant film in both respective careers.
Year of the Comet has the Hitchcockian MacGuffin, the anti-aging formula, that represents the thing that the bad guys want, willing to kill at any cost to get it. Unlike Hitchcock, who never really gave a damn about what the plot device was (microfilm, a secret message, etc.), Goldman makes the mistake of telling us too much, as it weakens the overall tempo of what should have been a frothy affair. People are killed off cruelly for this space-age formula more suited for a science fiction thriller than a romantic adventure, and juxtaposed against the witty, flirtatious banter between the leads, it's a turn-off whenever it rears its ugly head. Not that the film could have been good given the aforementioned liabilities in the casting and antiquated ideas, but a bland-but-benign pulp movie descends into the realm of flat-out bad by injecting the semblance of seriousness in the middle of it. Not that we can take even this seriousness seriously once we determine that Philippe, played flamboyantly by Louis Jordan (Octopussy, Gigi), only wants the formula so that he can have the stamina to copulate with up to twenty different women a day, every day. TMI, Philippe!
If there is an audience out there for Year of the Comet, I suspect it will be almost exclusively among those who watch films that one can find on a channel that primarily caters to women's programming, such as Oxygen or Lifetime, especially those who watch and enjoy the made-for-TV fodder these channels regularly produce. Outside of this slim demographic, I can't imagine why someone with access to the selection of the entertaining films Year of the Comet tries to emulate wouldn't just opt to watch those instead. The Great Comet of 1811 might have been memorable viewing, but Year of the Comet most certainly is not.
©2007 Vince Leo