By A.C. Miller
The year is 1811. A comet is passing the sun, making itself visible for an astounding 260 days. During this period of time, favorable weather conditions produce an excellent harvest that is immediately attributed to the comet’s presence. After the comet disappears into obscurity, the wine produced during its window of visibility is appropriately labeled as ‘comet wine.’ Since comets aren’t always detectable by the naked eye, wines made during these unique periods of time are incredibly rare and expensive. And it’s in that vein of scarcity where the quest within the film Year of the Comet lies.
Now, fast-forward 181 years to 1992. Two-time Oscar winner, William Goldman, has a script based on this phenomena, and Peter Yates is there to film it. Add in two-time Emmy winning composer Hummie Mann, and you have a pretty solid foundation for a movie. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite play out that way.
With a strong start, Year of the Comet becomes an amalgam of a wannabe heist film paired with a romcom. It’s odd enough, but it’s clear from early on that this is a film that isn’t going to take itself too seriously.
Oliver Plexico (Tim Daly) is sweating off a night of heavy drinking. . .while, well, drinking. Wrapped in a towel with a Budweiser in hand, he stares at the floor hoping the headache of the night before will disappear into the sweat. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get too deep into his recovery efforts before he’s interrupted and taken to a wine tasting. Fortunately, for him, that’s where he meets his future partner in the comet wine chasing game, Margaret Harwood (Penelope Ann Miller).
The two don’t initially hit it off, but a series of events leads to them going after the same bottle (well, jug; it’s quite a large bottle) of wine together since their employers are the ones who plan to sell and buy the product. However, it’s not just any wine. This 1811 comet wine used to be a part of the personal collection of Napoleon Bonaparte, making it worth a million dollars. The two learn they’re not the only ones seeking to make some money.
Other fortune hunting teams include: an old landlady and her son (who seems like a knockoff of Richard Kiel’s ‘Jaws’ in The Spy Who Loved Me—at least in build and insanity); a group of Frenchmen led by a man named Nico (Art Malik); and three scientists, led by Louis Jordan as Philippe, who are actually seeking an inscription somewhere on the bottle that may help in their quest for a human growth hormone (HGH) that reverses aging. Really, it’s just all a little ridiculous, but without this level of silliness, there wouldn’t be a film.
Chaos ensues involving a helicopter, car, and rowboat chase all to ensure the “Jaws” loses possession of the bottle. Then, once they get it from him and believe the wine is safe and sound, Nico takes it. Eventually getting it back from him, they try to secure it once more, but that’s when Philippe gets ahold of the bottle and kidnaps Margaret in the process. Thus, leaving Oliver to chase after the girl and the bottle all while trying to avoid being killed by the mad scientist. It’s a pretty outrageous series of events without even trying to cover the ending. No spoilers – just know that Louis Jourdan still has it at 71.
All in all, Year of the Comet is “ok,”—best for when you don’t know what to watch, or if you just want to see a top-notch mustache. Heck, it could even be part of a Jourdan film marathon; after all, it is his last.