The classic O. Henry tale “The Ransom of Red Chief,” which is hilarious as a short story, unfortunately gets stretched out over two hours and is given a ’90s family-values spin by Disney in this telepic.
“Red Chief” begins as a funny little family entertainment, as Sam and Bill (Christopher Lloyd and Michael Jeter) ride into Summit, Mo., and quickly discover the mine they’ve “inherited” is worthless. Being worthless themselves, Sam sees opportunity knocking in the person of uber-brat Andrew, son of the wealthiest man in town.
They plot to kidnap the little nipper, and get rich on the ransom. But the kid’s a big pain in the neck, a nonstop talker and prankster, his tiresome antics effectively holding the kidnappers hostage.
But here’s where the late-20th century creeps in: Sam and Bill take a pity on the kid, rightly guessing that Andrew’s self-absorbed parents just don’t give him enough attention.
“Ransom of Red Chief” throws in a pair of menacing escaped convicts, a few Keystone Kops-like chases and other calculated mix-ups and silliness for good measure.
What’s clever on the printed page doesn’t translate over two hours, and pace lags considerably after first 30 minutes. It doesn’t quite pick up, even with all the chases at the end.
Lloyd and Jeter sail through telepic, while the rest of the cast stays within a hyper-real goofy plane that adds to the sometimes-clever script.
But Bob Clark’s direction gets bogged down with all the plot elements, and some over the top characters (can a moratorium be put on street-tough nuns?) fail to amuse.
Tech credits are pro, especially the turn-of-the-century costumes by Lynn Bernay.