Year of the Comet is a romantic thriller so musty and derivative even the haircuts seem dated. As the heroine, Penelope Ann Miller wears her auburn locks in an unflattering, early Molly Ringwald ‘do. Then again, her character is meant to be snippy and conservative, a demure damsel just waiting for someone to make her bloom. As the post-yuppie whiz kid who does just that, Tim Daly (from the TV series Wings) sports a blow-dried mane and the sort of neatly clipped, doesn’t-this-make-me-look-older mustache you might find on the shelf of a ’70s-nostalgia boutique. Daly is supposed to be an arrogant charmer, but he seems more like Magnum’s little brother. Then there’s Louis Jourdan, who, as the chief villain, parades around in the same gay-blade ascot and mod, flattened-out locks he has been wearing since the ’60s.

Miller, as the half-American daughter of an urbane English wine merchant, is sent to Scotland to catalog a vintage wine collection. In the cellar, she discovers buried treasure — a bottle of 1811 Lafitte that was once owned by Napoleon. Before long, everyone is after the oxygen-tank-size bottle. There’s Jourdan, a suave European sadist who keeps nattering on mysteriously about ”the formula”; there are rival wine salesmen; there’s the rooming-house landlady who, upon hearing how much the Lafitte will fetch ($1 million), dispatches her huge thug of a son to steal it; and so on.

The movie manages to be both flat and cute, with lots of ”action.” When Miller and Daly aren’t zipping around Scotland and France in helicopters and motor scooters, they’re engaged in winky-poo repartee. In the ickiest scene, Daly scales a tower wall to rescue Miller. As he balances on a jutting beam that’s about to break off (a predicament captured in one of the most unconvincing matte shots ever concocted), the two have a romantic quarrel about commitment; moments later, they’re pledging eternal love. The terrible thing is, I got the impression the two Hollywood veterans who collaborated on this movie — director Peter Yates (Bullitt, Breaking Away) and screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Misery) — actually thought they were adding ”relevance” to the usual thriller machinery. Romance may never die, but you can bet it doesn’t look like this anymore.

Year of the Comet
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