A romantic caper film that’s lighter on the caper and the romance than it should have been, Peter Yates’ Year of the Comet offers charming parts for its two young leads but trips heavily when its footing should be light as the battle for a bottle of wine winds itself from the Scottish highlands to the French Riviera.
The Production: 3/5
A romantic caper film that’s lighter on the caper and the romance than it should have been, Peter Yates’ Year of the Comet offers charming parts for its two young leads but trips heavily when its footing should be light as the battle for a bottle of wine winds itself from the Scottish highlands to the French Riviera. Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman seems a bit bereft of ideas to keep his soufflé lighter than air, but some winning performances and the gorgeous locations (plus a relatively brief running time) make it a tolerable enterprise.
Overjoyed when her wine connoisseur father Sir Mason Harwood (Ian Richardson) finally gives her an assignment to catalog the contents of the wine cellar in McPherson Castle in Scotland, Margaret Harwood (Penelope Ann Miller) is astonished to find a huge bottle with Napoleon’s crest dated 1811, in wine terminology “the year of the comet,” and possibly one of the most valuable bottles of wine in existence. Millionaire T.T. Kelleher (Shane Rimmer), interested in acquiring the wine, sends his assistant Oliver Plexico (Tim Daly), whose taste for vintages goes no farther than the beer cooler at the local 7-11, to bring the bottle safely back to him. While Margaret and Oliver clash instantly, they’re bound by a common goal of getting the bottle back unharmed to its new owner and thwarting two sets of thugs who stand in their way: a scientist (Louis Jourdan) and his confederates searching for a certain chemical formula which has been scrawled on the box containing the wine and Nico (Art Malik) and his cohorts who are trying to retrieve the wine for their boss who had been sold the wine by Margaret’s scheming brother Richard (Timothy Bentinck) who’s determined to get the credit for the million dollar sale the wine is certain to fetch for their father.
While the movie contains a fair share of wit, romance, and charm, what doesn’t help is William Goldman’s underwritten screenplay. The Oscar-winning writer doesn’t develop the comic situations with any depth (the characterizations are truly paper thin) while the suspense isn’t ratcheted up to nearly the extent that would help give the film the same kind of bracing mix of moods that distinguished Charade or Gambit, for example. Director Peter Yates, who pulled off the caper comedy The Hot Rock almost two decades prior to Year of the Comet, utilizes the desolate, foggy Scottish moors, hills, and lakes to set up possible suspense, danger, and mystery, but once the chase is on for the stolen wine bottle, the suspense rather fades away for goodly amounts of time as we’re whisked away to the sunny shores and luxurious spaces of the French Riviera (our plucky duo travels to these exotic locales via vintage automobiles, helicopters, and a prop plane). The glorious widescreen cinematography captures both the gloom and the glory of the locations admirably, and Yates directs a charming and momentarily anxiety-ridden sequence as Oliver scales a mountain chateau in cowboy boots and inevitably dangles from bedsheets high above when his parapet breaks out from under him. But the film could have used many more such sequences where mirth is mixed effervescently with trepidation.
Penelope Ann Miller is thoroughly winning as the feisty, determined young wine expert out to prove her mettle to her disapproving half-brother and apprehensive father. Not a conventional beauty and at least at first less interested in falling into bed with her attractive cohort than proving herself a professional with a job to do, Miller’s Margaret could have been a leading lady for the ages had writer Goldman not opted to make her the easy dewy-eyed romantic who beds the leading man and then thinks better of it in the morning. Tim Daly certainly has the rascally sparks of a Gable or Grant as part of his screen persona, but the uneven writing has him alternately crass and charming, weak of back and powerfully macho by turns. Louis Jourdan plays a spiteful villain again as he had done previously in Octopussy, and he’s an ineffectual here as he was in that Bond film, never quite generating the necessary menace to make the character completely work. Ian Richardson offers a fine performance as the stuffy, calculating father, and Timothy Bentinck is unbearably smug as Margaret’s less knowledgeable half-brother.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s Panavision 2.35:1 original theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully rendered in this transfer which has been anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. Never razor-sharp, the imagery offers instead pleasant crispness in scenes that don’t involve the foggy Scottish moors and lakes. Black levels are only fair throughout though the color spectrum is served with professional aplomb without any dangers of oversaturation. There is a momentary dust speck here and there but nothing that would qualify as distracting. The film has been divided into chapters every ten minutes so this transfer contains 10 chapters.
Despite having an encode that’s pitched too loudly and requires adjustment to prevent distortion, the Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound mix is highly reminiscent of the theatrical experience with the dialogue wonderfully recorded and always easily discernible, never overpowered by Hummie Mann’s nicely stereophonic background score or the atmospheric effects which likewise get the stereo treatment. No age-related problems with hiss or crackle impede the listening experience.
Special Features: 0/5
There are no bonus features on this made-on-demand DVD.
Year of the Comet doesn’t quite fulfill the expectations from a first class director like Peter Yates or a first-class screenwriter like William Goldman, but it’s a generally engaging romantic comedy movie with very attractive leading players and an easy-to-take caper scenario which makes for a decent way to spend ninety minutes.