Richie Rich (1994) / Comedy-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG for some violence and mild language
Running Time: 95 min.
Cast: Macaulay Culkin, John Larroquette, Edward Herrmann, Christine Ebersole, Johathan Hyde, Michael McShane, Chelcie Ross, Stephi Lineburg, Mariangela Pino, Reggie Jackson (cameo), Claudia Schiffer (cameo), Ben Stein (cameo), Rory Culkin (cameo)
Director: Donald Petrie
Screenplay: Tom S. Parker, Jim Jennewein
The long-running comic book character from Harvey Comics got the big screen treatment in 1994 with Richie Rich, a seemingly perfect starring vehicle for Macaulay Culkin (The Good Son, Home Alone), although at this point of his career, the former red-hot child star had been ice cold. It performed less than stellar at the box office, and it would be the last movie Culkin would make until adulthood, at the still-young age of 13.
Richie Rich is the richest kid in the world. He's the only son to billionaires Richard (Herrmann, The Lost Boys) and Regina (Ebersole, Amadeus) Rich, which also means sole heir to the family fortune. He has everything he could ever want out of life, except for real friends to play with, and with the help of his faithful butler, Cadbury (Hyde, Anaconda), Richie is able to hit it off with some lower-class children who all know the meaning of fun. Sadly, the fun would end soon enough, as a scheming executive in the Rich company, Lawrence Van Dough (Larroquette, Stripes), wants to get rid or Richie's parents once and for all, taking over the company and raiding the family vault for himself. With his parents missing, and perhaps even dead, Richie must find a way to not let Van Dough ruin everything his benevolent father had built up.
It's unlikely that most children today will have heard of Richie Rich, much less have read any of the comic books or television cartoons in which the fictional character makes an appearance. They will probably watch this because it stars someone they recognize from Home Alone, which this film plays out as much of the time. As a result, they will probably come away modestly liking it, despite the fact that it never really captures the spirit of its print counterpart. Also like Home Alone, the level of violence is quite high, perhaps too high for some younger children not accustomed to such things, so parents should be warned that this movie does feature plenty of gunfire and attempted murders -- something which would never, ever have made an appearance in the very child-friendly titles under the Harvey Comics line.
It's a shame that the violence does mar the film, as it is mildly enjoyable in most other respects, with fun characters and interesting toys for Richie to play with. It plays out colorful and lively, as most family fare does, with innocuous conversations and cheeky gags for adults, while the kids can relate to some of the adventures Richie Rich would go on, thinking of how cool it would be to have all of the gadgets, gizmos and other creature comforts provided the poor little rich kid at the heart of the film.
Alas, the plot does rear its ugly head all too often, especially in a very tiresome finale on top of "Mt. Richmore", which is meant to echo a similar scene in Hitchcock's North by Northwest, a film that is paid homage to at least twice (a television shows the famous crop-dusting scene, perhaps as a bit of foreshadowing). Had the murderous main plot been excised and had some other less disturbing corporate takeover scheme substituted, we would probably have gained a modest family treat, similar to Big in having a young child come up with zany ideas to revolutionize a company into success among his peer group.
As it stands now, Richie Rich remains a forgotten film that will find very few championing as a classic family film. It's uncertain who I could recommend the film to, as it doesn't really do its source material justice for comic fans, while also trying to cater to adults and children in such equal measure, both groups will only find it interesting half of the time. As so often happens when a big name franchise is used as a comeback vehicle for a star on the decline, the lack of success kills the momentum of both, as "Richie Rich" and Culkin have been mostly dormant since its release, only occasionally making a minor comeback to remind us of the good times, but not nearly enough to want to see anything more than we have to.
-- Followed by a straight-to-video sequel of sorts, Richie Rich's Christmas Wish (1998).
©2006 Vince Leo