You Need This Movie Like . . . ..Mr.-

It was less than three years ago that Mike Nichols was celebrating a "Working Girl's" dizzy rise up the corporate ladder. Times have changed, and Nichols, nose to the Zeitgeist, has now brought forth Regarding Henry, one in a long line of kinder, gentler Hollywood products designed to show us the error of our greedy, win-at-any-cost Reagan-era ways (funny how no one in Hollywood noticed the problem at the time). This fable for our times, written by a "hot" young screenwriter named Jeffrey Abrams, is about a rich and powerful New York lawyer, Henry Turner (Harrison Ford), who comes to realize that his Yuppie lifestyle is a lie, his profession a dishonest scam, his values bankrupt. How does he come to this revelation? By getting shot in the head, losing his memory and re-entering his life as a blank slate.

Right off the bat, the idiocy of the premise hits you. If our hero can't remember who he was, his transformation from Ruthless Striver into Good Person is meaningless. There's something cuckoo about a moral fable that posits vegetableism as the agency of redemption, and something more than a little noxious about a movie that equates brain damage with innocence.

The Henry who returns home from the hospital to a wife (Annette Bening) and daughter (Mikki Allen) he can't remember is like a cross between E.T. and one of the Three Stooges. Strangely, the bullet-fired during a holdup at his neighborhood grocery-makes him a populist: his first day back he hugs his startled doorman. Maybe Nichols could have made this story work if he'd played it for farce, but "Big" got there first. Played for sentimental "realism," almost nothing in "Regarding Henry" makes sense. Scene after dishonest scene rolls by until your jaw drops in disbelief. Was this movie made by the mentally impaired?

One can make excuses for a 23-year-old writer's misunderstanding of human behavior, but how could Mike Nichols look at himself in the mirror when he directed the dumbfounding scene in which Bening blithely takes Ford into her bed on his first night home? (Remember, she knows he doesn't know who she is.) Bening's role is a joke: the movie never bothers to investigate how a wife would feel in these circumstances; she has to act as if she barely notices her husband is a happy half-wit, which makes her seem mentally handicapped. It doesn't help so that Bening, so good playing a devious tart in "The Grifters," seems incapable of playing sincerity. The only member of this fantasy family with a shred of reality is Allen, who gives the film its few good moments.

Ford is fine at the start, as a shark, but once he becomes a saintly dumdum he loses his finesse and his subtlety. Perhaps the script's biggest lie is its refusal to allow Henry, who has to arduously relearn the most basic functions, any hint of frustration or rage. He becomes Mr. Mellow, lover of cute dogs, pancakes and "the family," and the scourge of all those callous, caviar-eating corporate types Nichols caricatures in crayon strokes. In this movie's schoolboy scheme of things, all lawyers are arrogant creeps, and even the woman who once had an affair with Henry is treated contemptuously, as if her feelings couldn't have been real because well, she's an adulterous lawyer. The plot requires that Henry is taken back into the firm in his incapacitated state-not bloody likely-where he magically musters the brainpower to discover the dastardly deeds he used to do. It's supposed to be a great moment when Henry renounces being an attorney-not that anybody would want to employ him-as if this were proof of his new virtue. No more nasty striving for our Henry, who fortunately seems to have a limitless supply of money so that he can renounce the work ethic in high style. Does the man who once directed "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" believe a word of this drivel, or has he become an utter cynic? If this is Hollywood's idea of a heartwarming, life-affirming spectacle, we should probably all go out and get ourselves shot in the head.