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'Richie Rich' entertains

It's good clean fun.

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The Beatles told us that "Money can't buy me love."

"Richie Rich" tells us, "Oh, yes it can."

Sort of.

Based on the Harvey Comics character, "Richie Rich" stars Macaulay Culkin as the ultimate poor little rich boy who wants nothing more than to be a regular kid, albeit a billionaire regular kid. Director Donald Petrie's film version is pleasant and entertaining but certainly nothing spectacular. In terms of the recent Comics-To-Movies executions, with the first couple of "Supermans" and the first "Batman" rating as nines or tens, "Richie Rich" comes in at a solid five or six.

The plot is exceedingly simple and serves more as a vehicle for showing all of Richie's neat toys and stuff rather than for creating any sort of real character and story development. Richie is the son and heir of billionaire tycoon Richard Rich (Edward Herrmann) and his wife Regina (Christine Ebersole). Richard and Regina are sweet and goofy and exceedinly civic minded, giving millions annually to chairty and to support their city and country. They also indulge an off-the-wall-yet-brilliant inventor named Professor Keanbean (Michael McShane) in his outrageous pursuits.

Groomed from birth to take over the Rich family business, Richie has everything money can buy. When he wants to play baseball, Richie is coached by none other than Reggie Jackson. When he wants to ride a roller coaster, he has his own. He has his own personal McDonald's in the Rich Mansion (actually, the magnificent Biltmore Estate is Asheville, N.C.). You get the idea. (There's a cute scene, too, when Richie and his schoolmates pass notes to each other in class via FAX machines.)

What he doesn't have is pals, but that's taken care of when Cadbury (Jonathan Hyde), Richie's personal valet, pays a bunch of downtown kids to come play with his boss. Naturally Richie wins then over and they become bosom buddies.

The theoretical tension in the film comes when Richard Rich's second in command, Lawrence Van Dough (John Larroquette) hatches a plot to kill all the Riches and take over the financial empire. Will Cadbury, the street kids and the inventor join with Richie to thwart the evil Van Dough? What do you think?

Culkin, who has been in something of a slump lately, is very good as Richie. It's an appropriately controlled if a little too subdued performance and we do indeed find ourselves rooting for Richie — and for Culkin's career to get back on track.

Herrmann and Ebersole are fine and winning as the elder Riches, especially Ebersole who is a truly gifted actress. From her days on "Saturday Night Live" to her cameo in "Amadeus" to "Richie Rich," I have simply never seen Ebersole give a bad performance. Here she reminds me of a delightfully loopy updated and more politically correct version of Lovie Howell from "Gilligian's Island." As a matter of fact, I don't think I've ever seen Herrmann give a poor performance, either, and I still believe his Franklin Roosevelt on PBS was close to a definitive portrayal of FDR.

Larroquette makes a wonderfully sleazy, tongue-in-cheek villain and Jonathan Hyde steals the show as the loyal valet, Cadbury, who really loves Master Richie.

I do wish that Petrie and writers Tom S. Parker and Jim Jennewein had set their sights a little higher. While "Richie Rich" is fun, I can't help but feel it could have been much better. The cast is excellent and the production values are high, there's just not a lot of substance. Nevertheless, it's a well-made, well-acted film that you see with your kids without fear of lapsing into a coma.

By the way, Petrie drops in a nifty little homage paid to Hitchcock's "North By Northwest." If you go, see if you can catch the connection.

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