Tuesday, January 22, 2008
4 Color Cinema
Kicking off a little mini-theme here at the Bunker, today I'm taking a look at a piece of 4 Color Cinema which never even gets mentioned as a "comic book movie" nowadays. Based on one of, if not the most, prolific characters ever to grace a comics page, Richie Rich stands as a bit of a throwback in terms of both it's titular star as well as the actor portraying him.
Rich is of course played by Macaulay Culkin, who in 1994 was already four years removed from his turn in Home Alone, and had already began to appear in such middling fare as Getting Even With Dad and The Pagemaster. No longer the Hollywood darling he had been, Culkin nonetheless had a pretty bankable name for children's entertainment, and so the most recognizable child actor of his generation stepped into the shoes of The Poor Little Rich Boy. Now, Richie himself had been facing some downturns as well -- by this point, Harvey's publishing had taken a nosedive from their peak in the 60s and 70s, and there were only a few Richie Rich titles on the stands by 1990, of which only one was being published at the film's release. (Oddly enough, Marvel would release an adaption of the film in 1995; see below.) So the film itself is a bit of an underdog. And really, it lives down to that in a lot of ways, with a pretty pedestrian plot and ordinary action setpieces. But it's not all bad -- fans of the character take solace.
The story involves Richie's desire to be a kid and have fun -- an altogether typical Richie Rich plot device, used countless times in the character's early days and still pretty frequently later on. So as Richie tries to be just an ordinary kid, with a loving family and regular friends, behind the scenes the scheming businessman Lawrence Van Dough (A Rich Industries executive) plots to eliminate the Richs and claim their fortune as his own. When Richie's parents plane crashes in the Bermuda Triangle, the Poor Little Rich Boy must fend off Van Dough and save the day, with the help of his faithful butler Cadbury, the quirky Professor Keenbean, and his newfound friends.
Pretty typical Richie Rich stuff, really, but when you have had so many adventures appear in so many titles for so many years, certain patterns start to emerge. So while it's not the most original or inventive plot, it certainly is appropriate for the character as well as the target audience -- that is, children, and Richie Rich fans such as myself. The performances are fun and light, with Culkin turning in a pretty good approximation of the Poor Little Rich Boy (despite being a bit older than the character was portrayed). As Richard and Regina Rich, Edward Herrmann and Christine Ebersole fit the bill perfectly, capturing the senor Rich's absent-minded good nature as well as Mr.s Rich's love of the finer things. John Larroquette plays Lawrence Van Dough like a good comedy opera villain, overflowing with verve and gladly chewing the scenery, while Michael McShane (who still holds the title for having my favorite line from Office Space) is fun as the off-center Keenbean. Of special note, though, is Jonathon Hyde as Cadbury. Hyde is best known to American audiences for his roles in Titanic and The Mummy, but his background is stage acting, and it shows. His relationship to Richie -- especially after the Richs are missing -- is very endearing, and really harkens back to the source material. It brings a certain sense of authenticity to the film and sells the concept of a Boy and his Faithful Butler quite well.
The cast is rounded out with a few child actors who portray Richie's friends and schoolmates, allowing the filmmakers to have a little fun. While not blatantly so, Richie's friends are for the most part actual characters from the Harvey series -- Freckles and PeeWee, certainly, along with Reggie (though, he is not Richie's cousin this time out). Most notable is the inclusion of Gloria Glad, though she has been updated for the times -- no longer the pretty girl in a pretty dress, she's now a tomboy, and the pitcher for the gang's sandlot baseball team. All in all the kids work nicely and never really get annoying, which is admirable.
The film itself is no great shakes, but there's entertainment to be reaped from it, which is better than a lot of mod kid's movies can say. The silly excesses which the Richs wealth can buy, for one, as well as Keenbean's strange inventions breed smiles. And there's a good deal of gags which work without resorting to bathroom or rude humor. I think it helps if you already like the character and world of Richie Rich. Nonfans won't love it, but you won't be bored by it, either. A good pick-up of you have kids, or if you have fond memories of reading about Richie Rich's adventures when you were a kid.