"They were your friends!" cries Maggie Harwood when she walks in on the
pistol-holding, aged but well preserved Philippe. Lying on the rug
behind him are his two, now dead, associates. "Well,' says Philippe,
"we weren't that close."
Maggie (Penelope Ann Miller) is the heroine in this romantic comedy
thriller. While the hero is the overly handsome, strong-jawed and
mustachioed Oliver Plexico (Tim Daly), the real sex appeal comes from
Philippe as played by 73-year-old Louis Jourdan. This was his last
film. While many may remember him as the dashing and love-struck Gaston
Lachaille in Gigi, he remains more fondly in my heart as Dr. Arcane in
Swamp Thing. Like Dr. Arcane, Philippe is an incorrigibly
well-mannered, egocentric and murderous creep. I suspect there are few
actors as good as Jourdan who would be willing to semi-sing, while
smacking his lips, leering and snapping his fingers, "There are chicks
just ripe for some kissin' / And I mean to kiss me a few! / Then those
chicks don't know what they're missin' / I got a lot of livin' to do!"
Jourdan does it. It's grotesquely funny.
The Year of the Comet is all about wine, and especially about an
extraordinarily rare bottle of wine, an 1811 Lafite, that was once part
of Bonaparte's cellar. In auction it could bring at least a million
dollars. Maggie, who works for her father, the wine merchant Sir Mason
Harwood (Ian Richardson), is sent to Scotland to appraise an extensive
wine collection that Harwood and Company may be commissioned to place
in auction. Maggie, who knows almost as much about wine as her father,
may be "a funny, over-worked ragamuffin" but she got the assignment
from her father by telling him he either gives her this chance to show
just how good she is or she's quitting. Now she's knocking on the great
oaken door of an isolated Scottish castle to appraise the wine. Unknown
to Maggie, she's interrupting the torture of the owner by Philippe and
his men. Philippe assures his victim that shoving the hypodermic needle
with a certain drug right in the eyeball won't interfere with the man's
vision...although it will cause exquisite pain later with each blink.
All that we know is that there is a formula Philippe is determined to
have. Maggie is taken to the cellar and this is when, brushing off
centuries of cobwebs and grime while she looks at these hundreds of
encrusted wine bottles, she makes her discovery...the 1811 Lafite. And
it's just a short while later that Maggie makes more discoveries.
First, she finds Oliver looking for her, the man who prefers beer and
calls wine a beverage. She met him at a wine tasting at Harwoods. She
and Oliver discover the body of the owner in the wine cellar and they
discover Philippe and his crew absconding with the bottle of Lafite.
The chase is on! Sometimes Maggie and Oliver chase Philippe. Sometimes
he's chasing them. They chase around with cars, motorbikes,
helicopters, airplanes and rowboats. They chase scenically through the
cold, rocky mountains of Scotland and the warm slopes of the French
Rivera. Maggie and Oliver bicker, kiss, bicker, fall in love and
bicker. And then they wind up having to listen to Philippe sing "Gotta
lotta livin' to do." By now we've realized (this is no spoiler) that
this adventure has as much to do with the secret formula and glands as
it has to do with wine.
Year of the Comet strains to be a Hitchcock romantic thriller. While it
doesn't come close it's an engaging, undemanding romp. The script is by
William Goldman, a man who knows what he's doing with this sort of
thing. Try Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or The Princess Bride. He
works wonders with the clichés he deliberately uses. The direction,
however, is a letdown. It's clunky and never lets the script build much
steam, either in the chases or in the romance department. I don't know
what happened to Peter Yates, but the director of Bullitt, Breaking
Away and Eyewitness just doesn't seem engaged. Miller and Daly are
attractive enough, although Daly is better at being handsome than at
being an amusing speaker of clever lines. Cary Grant needn't worry. The
real pleasures of the movie, other than the plot, are Louis Jourdan
(now nearly 90 and living in France) and Ian Richardson, such a sly
actor. Ian McNeice as one of Philippe's men holds his own.
Year of the Comet is amusing fluff, undemanding and a pleasant
adventure. I liked it enough to have watched it twice in four years.