January 19, 1996 at 05:00 AM EST

RESTORATION (Miramax, R) In a perfect universe, all movie stars would be required to participate in one unlikely period piece every three years, just to stay honest. This unwieldy but charming Miramax vanity production, adapted from Rose Tremain’s well-received 1989 novel and directed by Michael Hoffman (Soapdish), stars Robert Downey Jr. as an English doctor in the enlightened 17th-century reign of Charles II — England’s Restoration period. At the beginning of the story, he’s squandering his talents in a life of debauchery; by the end of his Candide-like wanderings, his purpose in life has been restored. Blinking his puppy-moist eyes and grappling with an English accent, Downey struggles so manfully in the role that one cuts him a lot of slack; working earnestly on her Irish brogue and mussing up her cupcake demeanor in the service of verisimilitude as a wise madwoman, Meg Ryan’s performance is, refreshingly, less precious than she’s been in a long while. With Sam Neill as King Charles, David Thewlis as a fellow doc, and Hugh Grant having a fine and liberating time playing a supercilious court portrait painter. B


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