Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Year of the Comet (1992)

Her father, a big trader in wine as a collector’s item, and not one in visible affection, finally allows wine expert Margaret Harwood (Penelope Ann Miller) to go out and catalogue her first wine cellar out on the Isle of Man. This first outing turns out to be quite the coup, for Maggie finds buried among the dross a humungous and very, very valuable bottle of wine bottled in the year of the Great Comet (therefore the title) for Napoleon’s personal use. How Nappy planned to survive drinking his body weight in wine, we never learn. Maggie’s father sells the bottle right when he hears of it to his favourite customer, who in turn sends out his all-around trouble-shooting macho man assistant Oliver Plexico (Tim “The ‘stache” Daly) to get the bottle home safely.

Alas, there are a few problems for Maggie and Oliver. It’s not just that they are clearly involved in one of those Hollywood romances of people first loudly professing how much they loathe one another to finally fall in just as loud love, for there are several groups after the bottle. There’s the elderly landlady (Julia McCarthy) and her murderous son who just like the sound of one million dollars, one Philippe (Louis Jourdan) and his men who think one former associate has hidden some mysterious formula in or around the bottle, as well as the henchpeople of another wine collector who has been sold the very same bottle by Maggie’s mildly evil half-brother. Looks like the road to true love is paved with adventures through Europe for our heroine and hero.

Year of the Comet’s Peter Yates is one of these directors it is pretty difficult to get a handle on. In the early part of his career he sure knew how to do brilliant crime films and car chases, yet only a handful – and generally the best – of the films he made throughout his career actually fit these talents, while a lot of them are pretty characterless mid-level mainstream Hollywood (and British would-be-Hollywood) affairs of the completely forgettable sort, or Krull.

Once you’ve seen enough of his lesser films (that make a most of his filmography, really), you just might start to notice a pattern with them, though. Yates was clearly an admirer of classic, pre-70s Hollywood style films, and some of his body of work seems to me an attempt to keep the values and the style of these films alive during the 80s and 90s, just generally not with too much artistic success. Classic Hollywood is difficult, even for the talented. The William Goldman-scripted film at hand fits very well into this theory, though it does work much better than many other of Yates’s films of this type, perhaps because it wears its heart and its influences rather obviously on its sleeve.

So, this is one of these adventurous romances you might imagine seeing Cary Grant or Errol Flynn in, with a plot that is light, fluffy,  and quite nonsensical yet also a really fun set-up made to keep the romance moving and the audience entertained with some stunts, some action, some comedy, and so on. Of course, Tim Daly sure is no Cary Grant; on the other hand, Penelope Ann Miller is allowed to be much more fun than she would have been in the olden times (at least after World War II), and is really charming enough to sell Daly too.

There’s really not terribly much else to say about the film, I’m afraid: if you’re in the market for a slightly updated (with the good stuff of less icky romance and a more present female lead) old-style Hollywood adventure romance, with sometimes silly, sometimes witty humour, little depth but a truly polished surface, then this is going to be a lot of fun (remember that?) for you; if not, you’re probably dead inside, say stuff about films like “it’s fun and endearing but there’s just no true depth to it”, and probably don’t even appreciate that sometimes a piece of fluff can save lives, or at least souls.

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