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Year of the Comet Reviews

A dream project for writer William Goldman (BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID) since he wrote it in the 1970s, this labored attempt to inject some modern irreverence into an old genre falls flat from having languished too long on the shelf and by being entrusted to the wrong director. Maggie Harwood (Penelope Ann Miller) is the Americanized daughter of the owner of a very old, very conservative and very British wine-auctioning concern. Yearning to play a more important part in the male-dominated business, she gets her chance when her father assigns her to catalogue a wine cellar in an old Scottish estate. There, she discovers a huge bottle of wine bearing Napoleon's seal and dated 1811, the "year of the comet" and a legendary vintage. It's so legendary, in fact, that Margaret's father offers the bottle sight-unseen to a collector for $1 million, who snaps it up immediately. The collector sends his assistant, swaggering beer-swilling Oliver Plexico (Timothy Daly, of TV's "WINGS"), to collect his prize. Plexico and Margaret had met, and scrapped, earlier, at a winetasting. But there were supposedly sparks there and, before too long, they are wrestling between the sheets in Scotland while wrestling the wine away from mad scientist Philippe (Louis Jourdan), a tenant who had been renting the estate from its now-deceased owner and is now after a secret formula for an eternal-youth drug hidden under the bottle's label. Goldman has had an uncanny affinity with directors throughout his career, especially those with a flair for comedy. BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID was mounted to great popular and critical acclaim under George Roy Hill's direction and THE PRINCESS BRIDE, with Rob Reiner at the helm, has become a romantic cult favorite. Though Goldman, whose other successes include THE STEPFORD WIVES, ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, MARATHON MAN and MAGIC (the latter two adapted from his own novels), has more than proved himself in a wide variety of genres, several of the same ingredients in SUNDANCE and BRIDE are present in this attempt to revive and rib the romantic comedy-adventure. But the results here are flatter than old champagne with Peter Yates at the helm. Yates, whose best films remain the dark and gritty underworld dramas BULLITT and THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE, has generally shown in his other films that bubbly is quite beyond him. In this instance, YEAR OF THE COMET seems to lumber when it should soar. Despite the beautiful countryside and the abundant stuntwork, it always feels drab, strained and slow-moving. More than a little fault lies with the screenplay, however. Setting a cliffhanger in the "cutthroat" world of wine-tasting, while an amusing concept, presents limited cinematic possibilities, to say the least. And what's there hasn't improved with age. If Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner didn't already own this turf with ROMANCING THE STONE and JEWEL OF THE NILE, YEAR OF THE COMET might have had possibilities. As it is, it limps along aimlessly, like THE PINK PANTHER with a hangover. There is evidence that Goldman had some good thematic ideas. Harwood is a young lady in love with old wines. Plexico, meanwhile, is an old whiner, a once-dashing hero with back problems that make him put the plot on hold so he can get to a chiropractor. And Philippe is an old man obsessed with recapturing his youth. But these potentially intriguing characters are not fleshed out, and the plotting is listless and routine. The final nail in the coffin, as if it were needed, is that Daly and Miller have no chemistry together. Though Daly is amiable enough, Miller fails to inhabit the emotional core of her character, and therefore never seems quite to believe what she's being made to say. (Though, with some of Goldman's dialogue, it's hard to blame her.) She seems relieved during the romantic scenes because at least they connect to something comprehensible in human nature. Otherwise, there's nothing stellar about YEAR OF THE COMET. (Adult situations.)