Mike Nichols must have been stunned by the critical virulence and popular indifference that greeted Regarding Henry, the director’s 13th film and an attempt to show that ’80s yuppie greedheads may be ready for ’90s moral redemption. Scaled down on video, this dramatic fable seems harmless enough, like a particularly tasteful movie of the week. But the more you think about it, the more Regarding Henry starts to look like a noxiously manipulative stacked deck.
Granted, Shakespeare may have been on to something when he wrote, ”The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” That still doesn’t make Henry Turner, the Manhattan attorney played by Harrison Ford, any less of a straw-man target for Nichols’ vague, post-Reagan-era resentments. The movie is all surface signifiers and no significance: You know Henry’s a snide meanie deserving of comeuppance because he chain-smokes, wears his hair slicked back, and is on the wrong side of a medical malpractice suit. And you know that he’s a ”better person” after getting a bullet in the head during a botched holdup because he starts to like puppies and minorities.
The actors can’t be faulted. Ford spends most of the movie looking like he just woke up from a nap, but Annette Bening is quietly affecting as the pampered Park Avenue wife who learns to live within a budget, and first-timer Mikki Allen has a nice realistic glumness as their teenage daughter. The smug plot contrivances, though, seem the work of people who might do well to get out of their penthouses more often. Do viewers really need another life- affirming black character (here it’s Do the Right Thing‘s Bill Nunn as Henry’s physical therapist) who exists solely to say ”yo” and show the white hero how to ”get down”? Is partial brain damage really going to make anyone a better person? Nichols apparently wants it both ways — to make Henry stop and smell the roses while keeping the emotions that get dug up discreet and tidy — but there’s no way to do that without seeming absurdly naive. Henry Turner isn’t the only one here with a hole in his head. C-