Decently crafted but oddly charmless, “Richie Rich” isn’t likely to jump-start the fading superstardom of aging child star Macaulay Culkin. Even so, pic stands to earn at least some small change during the holiday moviegoing season, if only because, after the fast fades of “The Pagemaster,” “The Swan Princess” and “Miracle on 34th Street,” parents really don’t have much else that’s new to take their kids to after seeing “The Santa Clause” for the third or fourth time.
Based on the popular Harvey comic books (and subsequent cartoon spinoffs), pic casts Culkin in the title role as the world’s richest 12-year-old. How rich is he? Well, he has Reggie Jackson for a baseball coach, Claudia Schiffer for a personal trainer and his very own McDonald’s in a room of his family’s sprawling mansion.
Better still, Richie has two loving parents (Edward Herrmann, Christine Ebersole) who are philanthropic billionaires. Unfortunately, Richie doesn’t have any kids his own age to play with. One of the pic’s funniest bits has Richie spending a day at his school, a posh haven for Donald Trump wannabes, where elegantly attired students pass notes in class via fax. But Richie’s classmates aren’t very interested in baseball or other “childish” concerns.
Through the intervention of Cadbury (Jonathan Hyde), Richie’s loyal manservant, Richie is able to find some working-class kids to pal around with. His new buddies prove to be valuable allies when Lawrence Van Dough (John Larroquette), a Rich Industries executive, attempts a hostile takeover of the Rich fortune by trying to subtract the Rich family from among the living.
Script by Tom S. Parker and Jim Jennewein, from a story by Neil Tolkin, calls for Richie, Cadbury and Richie’s new buddies (led by appealing newcomer Stephi Lineburg) to invade the Rich manor to rescue Richie’s parents.
Result seems a bit like “Home Alone” in reverse, though it’s actually quite true to the adventurous spirit of the original “Richie Rich” comic books.
Still, there is something mechanical and soulless about all the slam-bang action that overwhelms this pic during its final half hour. Director Donald Petrie does keep things moving, but that’s not quite the same thing as keeping them interesting.
Climax is a rather heavy-handed homage to “North by Northwest” (which is briefly glimpsed on a TV screen earlier in pic). Adults may find this mildly amusing, though its value in something aimed primarily at grade-schoolers is dubious.
Culkin is clearly too mature for his role, something that’s only partially disguised by the casting of so many tall adults around him. Worse, as he gets older, his limitations as an actor become all the more obvious. He certainly isn’t obnoxious — but he isn’t charismatic, either.
Larroquette offers a generous slice of well-seasoned hamminess as the villain of the piece, while Hyde is even better as the very proper Cadbury, often recalling the dry-witted urbanity of John Gielgud in “Arthur.” Other supporting players, including Michael McShane as a wacky Rich Industries scientist, are fine.
Production values are suitably lavish, especially when it comes to detailing the luxuries of life at Rich manor.
Warner Bros. is releasing “Richie Rich” with a six-minute cartoon short, “Chariots of Fur,” the first new adventure of the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote in 30 years.
Directed, written and produced by the legendary Chuck Jones, “Chariots” (which world-premiered last fall at the Telluride Film Festival) is little more than a recycling of familiar sight gags. Even so, it’s more than amusing enough to whet one’s appetite for the additional new Looney Tunes shorts that Warners has promised for future theatrical exposure.