"Richie Rich" presents an irresistible Macaulay Culkin in a wonderful part and bursts with the gadgetry that many adults thrill to as much as children do. At the same time, it never loses touch with its humanity, directed by Donald Petrie with humor and panache.
In the title role, based on the Harvey Comics character, Culkin is the richest 12-year-old in the world. Appropriately, Biltmore, the century-old Vanderbilt estate in Ashville, N.C., the largest mansion in America, serves as Richie's home, which for purposes of the story is somewhere outside Chicago. Richie is also a classic poor little rich boy, but not because he's unloved or neglected or even spoiled but because so much is expected of him, including the kind of public duties carried on by the more conscientious members of the House of Windsor.
Richie is a terrifically good kid, intelligent, polite, perfectly groomed, cheerful and rightly self-confident. He has everything the world has to offer but friends his own age. At a public ceremony, marking the renewal rather than the anticipated closure of a Rich-owned factory, Richie notices a bunch of neighborhood youngsters playing baseball nearby. The look of longing on Richie's face is the linchpin of the entire film, summing up what Richie doesn't have. Little do the other kids suspect that he's actually a crackerjack player--Reggie Jackson, after all, is his personal coach. Richie's butler (Jonathan Hyde, a delight) starts figuring a way to bring the kids and Richie together.
Meanwhile, Lawrence Van Dough (John Larroquette, a gleeful villain with a helmet of lacquered hair), a top executive at Rich Industries, is figuring out ways to get his hands on the Rich family fortune, which is in the neighborhood of $70 billion. Van Dough's machinations plunge Richie into high adventure, yet writers Tom S. Parker and Jim Jennewein, working from Neil Tolkin's story, never lose concern for their characters, who include Michael McShane as a colorful inventor, and Stephi Lineburg and Mariangela Pino as mother and daughter, hearty representatives of the normal world.
Instead of the usual self-absorbed parents poor little rich children are supposed to have, Richie's mother and father (Edward Herrmann and Christine Ebersole) are devoted to each other and to their only son. The refreshing point the picture makes is that vast wealth, in its insular qualities, has made them innocents. They're a silly and staggeringly naive couple, yet sincere do-gooders; they seem to have just stepped out of a Preston Sturges screwball comedy.
Production designer James Spencer and special effects coordinator Michael Wood have come up with much stylish wonderment for cinematographer Don Burgess to photograph gleamingly. There's even a hilariously cockamamie homage to "North by Northwest's" famous climactic sequence at Mount Rushmore. Yet "Richie Rich," a wide-appeal Christmas comedy-fantasy, steadfastly keeps its heart in the right place and even its values in proper perspective.
* MPAA rating: PG, for mild violence and language. Times guidelines: It is suitable for all ages.
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Macaulay Culkin: Richie Rich John Larroquette: Lawrence Van Dough Edward Herrmann: Richard Rich Jonathan Hyde: Cadbury Christine Ebersole: Regina Rich A Warner Bros. presentation of a Silver Pictures production in association with Davis Entertainment Co. Director Donald Petrie. Producers Joel Silver, John Davis. Executive producers Dan Kolsrud, Joe Bilella, Joe Shapiro. Screenplay by Tom S. Parker, Jim Jennewein. Story by Neil Tolkin; based on characters appearing in Harvey Comics. Cinematographer Don Burgess. Editor Malcolm Campbell. Costumes Lisa Jensen. Music Alan Silvestri. Production designer James Spencer. Special effects coordinator Michael Wood. Art director William Matthews. Set decorators John Anderson, Patricia Malone. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.