January 15, 1996 12:00 PM

Robert Downey Jr., Sam Neill.

God will never damn a man for allowing himself a little pleasure.” Thus spake Charles II, who came to the throne in 1660, ending the Puritan years of Oliver Cromwell. Perhaps Charles was right. Though, in this claustrophobically overdraped costume affair, God clearly has deprived the sinners of a good interior decorator.

Downey plays a physician brought to Charles’s (Neill) court to cure a sick spaniel. What he finds is a lot of drunken revelry and big hair—and it’s quite to his liking, but with a catch. To mask the king’s sexual adventures, Downey is ordered to wed the royal mistress (Polly Walker). He makes the mistake of falling in love with her.

Restoration struggles hard to be about something more significant than its wardrobe budget, but what? Well, there’s the plague, which has erupted concurrently with all the sexual toying around. Unfortunately, the connection between the plague and AIDS is too cheap. Or maybe this is about the doctor’s moral rebirth—thus, the title. But Downey, while a believable party boy in any century, doesn’t exactly vibrate with spiritual sensitivity. Oh, and Meg Ryan turns up as an insane Irish woman who stomps around in the mud in heavy boots. You haven’t seen such furious clump-clump-clumping since Jurassic Park. (R)

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