'Year of the Comet' is not destined to age like fine wine

April 25, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

I have trouble with wines. I can never remember whether the red goes with the Wheaties or the Cheerios. And maybe that's why I had a little trouble with "Year of the Comet," a movie about wine.

According to press notes, it grew out of no more compelling raison d'etre than director Peter Yates and screenwriter William Goldman had apartments near each other in New York and summer homes near each other in Southern France (tough life, eh, guys?) and they spent many merry afternoons together discovering that they shared enthusiasms for wine, Southern France and the Scottish Highlands. Thus, they decided to make a movie about wine, Southern France and the Scottish Highlands.

And the best thing that can be said about "Year of the Comet"? It's about wine, Southern France and the Scottish Highlands.

An exceedingly meek comedy-thriller, it follows a TV-cute couple as they attempt to lug a million-dollar bottle of old grape juice from Scotland to France and back to London, pausing along the way for plenty of spatting and pouting, some punching and whacking, and even a little kissing.

The two cuties are played by Penelope Ann Miller, of "Kindergarten Cop," and Tim Daly, of TV's "Wings." Miller has been better, but at least she's a movie star. She gives the movie its one pinch of weight, even though the character she's asked to play is lighter than an empty zeppelin.

As for Daly, he's handsome, rugged, muscular, well-endowed with shining white teeth, a furry mustache, sparkling brown eyes, and he's as dull as a button.

The plot is a whisper: The daughter of an imperious London wine merchant, she discovers an 1811 bottle of Lafitte that would be worth a million. (1811 was the year of the comet in wine lore, and juice of that vintage is supposedly doubly tasty.) As the rep of a Dallas millionaire who may buy the bottle, he's sent out to investigate. The two soon find themselves embroiled in a silly where's-that-bottle escapade with bad guy Louis Jourdan.

The movie chirps along through unconvincing adventures and bad process shots of airplanes and helicopters, and the wine gets such a shaking that it would surely be turned into a grape milkshake by movie's end. Now and then it amuses, but usually it only tires.

Yates once directed "Bullit" with Steve McQueen, but no trace of that skill can be detected in his banal staging and unexceptional camera work. Goldman once wrote "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," but no trace of that skill can be detected in his tired, artificial one-liners.

And as for Lafitte 1811, I have it on good authority that it goes great with Cap'n Crunch.

'Year of the Comet'

Starring Penelope Ann Miller and Timothy Daly.

Directed by Peter Yates.

Released by Castle Rock.

Rated PG-13.

... **

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