Given the reputations of star Harrison Ford and director Mike Nichols, one expects more from their first collaboration since Working Girl than this slick tearjerker. The script, by twenty-four-year-old Jeffrey Abrams (Taking Care of Business), has a knack for trivializing the big issues it strenuously raises. Ford plays Henry Turner, a Manhattan attorney with a lavish apartment that represents his status as a legal shark. Henry is your basic shit, not above fudging the truth in order to crush the little guys who sue the corporations that hire him. He snaps at his secretary, Jessica (Elizabeth Wilson), cheats on his wife, Sarah (an uncharacteristically wan Annette Bening), and delivers pompous lectures on responsibility to his twelve-year-old daughter, Rachel (played with welcome straightforwardness by Mikki Allen). His idea of a father-daughter talk is: “We had a very big case today, sweetheart. And Daddy won.”
So far, so familiar. Then one night Henry goes out for a pack of cigarettes and gets shot in the head by a thief. The result is a lack of oxygen to the brain. Henry suffers severe memory loss, as well as speech and motor-skill impairment. It’s a long and difficult rehabilitation, and the doctors offer no guarantees.
Though the role invites overkill, Ford, an effectively recessive actor (Witness, Presumed Innocent), handles Henry’s drooling, stuttering and bewilderment with admirable restraint. But the script is a stacked deck. A man who can no longer recognize his family must get to know them again. In the process of being reawakened to the joys of sex, marriage, fatherhood and love, Henry must reject false values and, egads, find himself.
All this plays as hokily as it sounds. But audiences who prefer fantasy to harsh reality may lap it up. Nichols knows the textures of Henry’s elegant, ruthless world, and cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno (All That Jazz) gives the film a seductive high gloss. What’s lacking is emotional weight. It’s sad to watch a talented cast, including Bill Nunn as Henry’s physical therapist and Donald Moffat, Rebecca Miller and Kirby Mitchell as co-workers, selling bromides. The film allows Henry to progress only to the adolescent level — in a particularly grating touch, Ford’s hair is styled to fall boyishly into his eyes. Nice guy Henry gets his daughter a puppy, holds his wife’s hand in the park and tells his nasty boss to be a better person. At no point, however, does the film suggest how the Turners survive when Henry chucks his dirty dealings for ideals. Now that might have made a provocative film. Instead, Regarding Henry is Big played seriously, a celebration of arrested development.