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‘Regarding Henry’ (PG-13)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 10, 1991

"Regarding Henry" tells us we needn't kill all the lawyers anymore, it's enough to shoot them in the head. A tidy parable of '90s sanctimony, the film is a veritable commercial for political correctness through random street violence. It is the life-affirming story of Henry Turner, an unethical New York attorney who becomes Slurpee-sweet after a convenience store robber puts a couple of bullets into him.

Harrison Ford brings a ruthless verve to the chops-licking Henry, a yuppie heavy with neither time nor concern for his bewitching wife, Sarah (Annette Bening), or his beguiling daughter, Rachel (Mikki Allen). He's too busy defending big powerful hospitals against poor, crippled diabetics, befriending shallow peers and otherwise feeding the bonfire. Then one night he goes out for cigarettes, and nothing is ever the same for the Turners.

Through tragedy they find the intimacy that eluded them as they pursued their worthless friends and bogus values. Sarah, a poodle-pretty socialite, perseveres as the new head of the small family, but it's the brain-damaged Henry who learns the most by losing his memory. He remembers absolutely nothing -- including how to talk or walk -- when he comes out of his coma. But he recovers, kind of, thanks to his high-fiving physical therapist (Bill Nunn), a bear of a fellow who befriends and rehabilitates Henry with preposterous rapidity.

When Henry returns to his palatial Manhattan apartment, he is awed by the luxury. "Wow," he says, admiring the dining room table he had abhorred before the accident. Grown childlike in demeanor now, he plays with his daughter and holds his wife's hand. So what if he drags one leg a little, can't move one arm and sounds like a 45 disc on 33 rpm? His sex drive is back, and he no longer wants to be a lawyer.

Ford is irresistible when he's baffled, as he mostly is in this man-child's performance, which finds the actor as perplexed by the grown-up behavior he encounters as Tom Hanks was when he grew "Big." Finding comedy in potential bathos, Ford milks Henry's incredulity for laughs, as when the impaired hero is amazed to find a closet full of nothing but gray suits. But Ford also conveys a desperate neediness, the pain and insecurity that lead Henry to love his wife and nurture his child.

It would be cornier if it weren't so well acted by Nunn, Bening and 12-year-old Allen (whose previous acting experience was playing the Wise Men's Star in her church Christmas pageant). Bening, touted for her tarty role in "The Grifters," fleshes out the wifely Sarah, while Dunn of "Do the Right Thing" brings boisterous enthusiasm to his contrapuntal role -- probably more than is warranted.

A pleasurably pat comedic drama, "Regarding Henry" is effortlessly directed by Mike Nichols, who brought the same sort of seamlessness to his corporate Cinderella tale, "Working Girl." Employing a screenplay by 24-year-old Jeffrey Abrams, Nichols is once again skilled at disguising the rather dubious subtext beneath the froth. And yet you can't help but note the bizarre message that men, especially successful men, would benefit from brain damage. It is a strangely frightening look at a Brave New Cuckoo's Nest.

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