KIDS ON FILM : Money Can’t Buy Happiness, but ‘Richie’ Can Afford Laughs

<i> Lynn Smith is a staff writer for the Times' Life & Style section. </i>

In “Richie Rich,” the lonely 12-year-old son (Macaulay Culkin) of billionaire philanthropists hooks up with a ragtag group of sandlot ballplayers to outwit the evil corporate schemer Lawrence Van Dough (John Larroquette), who is after the family fortune and business, Rich Industries. (Rated PG)


Alan Belinky, 11, had expected a movie for rug rats. The ads were juvenile, and when he walked into the theater, he could see it was filled with little kids. But he was surprised by the action, the suspense, the still-charming Macaulay Culkin and, most of all, by the endless array of cool gadgetry belonging to Richie Rich, the world’s richest boy, whose devoted parents have hired an in-house inventor/scientist.

“I thought it was great,” said Alan, who saw the movie twice in its first week in release.

The second time, he took his friend Matthew Sayad, 11, who was equally surprised.

“I loved it,” he said. “It was just a really good movie for kids. And for me, too.”

“The inventions were really cool,” Matthew chipped in.

His favorite was Robo Bee, a remote-controlled mechanical bee, used to sting Van Dough’s henchmen as they cornered the scientist.


He also liked the “Kidapult,” a catapult that launched kids into the air and onto a giant air bag on the ground.

Alan was fascinated by the Dadlink, a full-size computer with a jumbo screen map that could pinpoint his father’s location anywhere in the world at any time. Richie’s loving and indulgent father doesn’t mind if he calls him at work--even if he’s in the middle of lecturing the President on basic economics. (“You can’t spend more than you take in.”)

The Dadlink plays a crucial role when Van Dough’s schemes cause Richie’s parents to disappear. Pitted against the cigar-chewing Van Dough, Richie, his neighborhood friends and his loyal butler Cadbury, also get to use Cementia, the strongest cement in the world, and things like the “sub atomic molecular reorganizer.”

Other kids were surprised to find that the movie was also rich in heart.

“I thought it would be like ‘Blank Check,’ ” said Marina Mayer, 9, referring to a similar movie about a super rich kid pitted against evil villains. “But it wasn’t as boring and slow. Here, it was like he had everything, but he didn’t, really.”

He has his own McDonald’s. He has professional baseball players as coaches. But, until the neighborhood kids get to know him, the mature and likable Richie Rich, isolated and groomed for corporate responsibility, doesn’t have any friends.

“I thought the purpose was really good, like money can’t buy friends,” Marina said. “That’s the most important thing you can have.”


There’s also a love-your-enemies message, even as Richie and his rediscovered parents fend off the murderous Van Dough. In this movie, unlike Macaulay Culkin’s star vehicle, “Home Alone,” he feels bad and apologizes before bashing the villains.

Marina and her sister Tiffany, 11, said they are both fans of child star Culkin, whose popularity shows no signs of abating even as he rounds the turn into adolescence.

Alan and Matthew agreed. “He’s a good actor,” Matthew said. “He’s getting better, actually.”

But as Alan pointed out, there may be a good reason he seemed so perfectly cast for this role.

“He is the third-richest boy in the world,” he said.