Somehow I saw the movie RI¢HIE RI¢H when it was released in 1994. I never planned to watch it again, but I did while researching that ’90s comic book movie piece a while back, so what the hell? You guys seemed to like when I did a review of CASPER. Maybe it’s good to beef up the Harvey Comics portion of the archive.
Not particularly popular in its time, and based on concepts from a comic book started in the ’50s, it might not be entirely fair to look at this movie as representative of our attitudes in the ’90s. Still, it says something that Warner Brothers felt this was a story people would want to see, and that it should be presented in this specific way.
I looked up some of the other family movies of ’94, and they include THREE NINJAS KICK BACK, LITTLE BIG LEAGUE, ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD, THE SANTA CLAUSE and THE PAGEMASTER. I haven’t seen any of those and I don’t know how they open, but you can imagine throwing stars, baseballs, footballs, Christmas presents or books dancing around some of those titles when they appear on screen. For RICHIE RICH, the magic of sports or holiday fantasy or reading is replaced by, you know, extreme wealth. So a fantastical Alan Silvestri (BACK TO THE FUTURE, WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, SUPER MARIO BROS., AVENGERS: ENDGAME) score plays as a vault opens to reveal the shimmering title.
Richie Rich (Macaulay Culkin, JACOB’S LADDER) is the richest boy in the world. As a baby, his billionaire parents Richard and Regina Rich (Edward Hermann and Christine Ebersole) had him sleep under a mobile of money and asked him things like, “Can you say ‘Wall Street’?… Can you say ‘convertible debenture’?” As a boy he yearns to spend more time with his dad, who he has a machine to tell him the location of, and is sort of raised by his valet Cadbury (Jonathan Hyde, ANACONDA, TITANIC).
I think it’s fair to say that the Richie Rich mythos were never meant to portray the actual rich people who live in the real world. The Rich family lives in preposterous excess, but they also use their bottomless resources (including cutting edge new technologies) to help people, or at least not to screw people over. The movie could be seen as kind of a subtle fuck-you to the 1% because it treats the idea of really nice rich families as a delightful and far-fetched fantasy.
You can definitely take it as a “what if” scenario, an impossible thing that’s fun to imagine, just like Batman, Iron Man or The Shadow. But it’s such a tempting fantasy it colors our culture’s mythology around Silicon Valley guys, Howard Schultz, and whoever that asshole from TV was that was president and tried to pretend he would use his outsider rich guy status to shake up the system and help the little guy but really it was just another scam. I forget the guy’s name. He was a real piece of work though.
Richie is a good kid – he has as a role model “billionaire businessman and philanthropist Richard Rich,” whose project today is to save a tool factory and its 600 jobs. But it still feels a little weird that the requirements of cookie cutter storytelling demand we feel sorry for him. Sure, he has an amusement park in his backyard and a personal McDonalds in his house and a butler who calls in the Vienna Boys Choir to perform for him when he’s sad but what good is all that when the factory worker’s kids don’t want him in their baseball game? He just wants to be a regular kid but he wears a tie and slicks his hair back and has a bodyguard. And you have to understand that these kids, a couple of them wear their baseball hats backwards. One of them with sunglasses! That’s the kinda shit Macaulay Culkin would pull if he was, say, lip syncing the terrible rap in the “Black or White” video, but Richie hasn’t been trained for that kind of thing. So there’s huge tension until later when he figures out to wear a normal jacket with a hoodie under it. Diane (Mariangela Pino), factory worker and mom of baseball kid Gloria (Stephi Lineburg) sees Richie through his helicopter window and senses his ennui and feels sorry for him, officially honoring him with the sympathy of the working class.
I would play the world’s smallest violin for him, but the Rich family actually owns it, along with the world’s largest violin and the world’s most made out of gold and valuable jewels violin.
When the kids do let Richie into the game for a minute and he hits well and Cadbury yells “Yes!” I think it’s supposed to feel triumphant, but we know Richie gets hitting lessons from Reggie Jackson. It’s also implied that he has Arnold Schwarzenegger as a personal trainer (though Claudia Schiffer is subbing today). There are issues of privilege here that are not addressed, is what I’m getting at.
That said, he’s right to not want to hang out with the other heirs to immense fortunes. He goes to a private school for the elite rich, where Ben Stein teaches business as they golf, read the newspaper, have their suits tailored and fax each other notes. These kid actors do a good job of playing little shitstains that you want to see fall into a pile of shit. Which I’m surprised doesn’t literally happen in this movie.
Cadbury invites the baseball kids to the mansion to play with Richie. In fact, he offers to pay them. There’s definitely supposed to be a message about the emptiness of being really, really, really, really, really rich and having everything you could ever want and everything you don’t even want and also more stuff in addition to that if the kids only come over because they’re being paid. But I don’t know, man, they also really love the fantasy of “what if you could just fuckin drive around in dune buggies and jump onto a huge trampoline and eat cheeseburgers and live in a fantasyland because your pal is Richie Rich.”
The kids are supposed to not really get it when they envy him.
Because it’s hard out there for the richest boy in the world. Look how sad he looks. He’s liable to turn into Batman.
But I don’t know. I think most kids would agree with the part about it being cool to, like, have a guy who builds you robot bees and stuff. But money isn’t everything. Even though he does have a dog named after currency and with spots shaped like a symbol for currency and both his first and last names also have symbols for currency in place of letters when the logo is transcribed literally like SE7EN or THE VVITCH.
Anyway, obviously this can’t just be about making friends. What the fuck. Are you stupid? No, you gotta have a snooty villain in a by-the-numbers comedy, and for this one it’s Rich Industries CFO Laurence Van Dough (John Larroquette, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE), who’s secretly scheming to steal the company from Richie’s parents. Richie’s supposed to be with them on their private jet, the Billion Dollar One, when it crashes in the Bermuda Triangle. Actually it’s supposed to blow up, but they survive by discovering the bomb and throwing it off in time. But mom had let Richie stay home. So after Van Dough takes over the company and closes the tool factory, Richie gets mad and asserts his right to take over. Ain’t no rule says a kid can’t run a corporation.
There is lots of laffs and goofs and montages about how he loudly slurps milkshakes during board meetings and rollerblades around the offices and what not. But by cutting the board’s salary (consider yourself stuck, The Man!) and hiring his baseball friends as his “new research and development team” to taste candy bars he ends up on the cover of a bunch of financial magazines – an outsider genius of King Ralphian proportions.
And then Van Dough frames Cadbury for bombing Billion Dollar One and they have to break out of jail and he falls in love with Gloria’s mom and the climax has the Riches climbing on “Mount Richmore,” their recently commissioned family portrait mountain sculpture and it is revealed that their vault holds things that only have sentimental value and at they end they say “Now our son really is the richest boy in the world” because “He has friends.” The end.
You know who is not in this movie? Irona, the robot maid. She could fly around and lift things and turn into a vacuum and shit. She was actually way cooler than his human friends. He wouldn’t need those dumb-hangers on if he had Irona. That’s definitely the one and only reason why this got crushed by DUMB AND DUMBER, THE SANTA CLAUSE, STREET FIGHTER and DISCLOSURE in its opening weekend and didn’t make back its budget at the box office and Richie’s parents were so ashamed they performed seppuku in front of the Variety head office. LISTEN TO THE FANS. NOT MY RICHIE RICH.
Because this is an old timey comic book character they don’t have as many things specific to 1994 as you might in your average 1994 movie. A rare exception is Gloria’s bedroom. Richie uses her computer to hack into the Rich Industries network (he probly gets computer lessons from Bill Gates) so we get to see that she has posters for the band Candlebox and the R.E.M. album Automatic For the People. No Vienna Boys Choir for her.
I’m not gonna use the word “problematic” – ah shit, I just used it. Anyway I’m not trying to judge movies from another era, but I do like watching movies that I remember being considered acceptable at the time and realizing they would be less likely to make something like that now. One example here is when Richie and Cadbury share in the male bonding ritual of getting Claudia Schiffer to bend over in front of them so they can check out her ass.
Another one is that Richie’s largest friend Pee Wee (Jonathan Hilario, “Phys Ed Dweeb,” ROOKIE OF THE YEAR) is always excited about eating.
They also made Professor Keenbean (Michael McShane, Friar Tuck from ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES) a big guy and I think all of his scenes have a “joke” about ha ha, he loves to eat food, on account of he is fat.
For example, when he gets tied up he still tries to eat a sandwich.
You see, because of fat people. Unfortunately these days, because of the liberals and the political correctness, you’re not allowed to have the great comedy like this that they used to have, the really funny and edgy kind that’s too dangerous, and they’re not willing to compete in the marketplace of ideas, because of the safe spaces.
Director Donald Petrie started as an actor (H.O.T.S.) and then a TV director (MacGyver, L.A. Law) before his movie debut, MYSTIC PIZZA. His other movies, not surprisingly, are stuff like OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS, GRUMPY OLD MEN, THE ASSOCIATE, MY FAVORITE MARTIAN, MISS CONGENIALITY, HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS, and TURNER & HOOCH (the tv version). He’s working from a script credited to Neil Tolkin (LICENSE TO DRIVE, JURY DUTY, Magnum P.I.) and Tom S. Parker & Jim Jennewein (STAY TUNED, MAJOR LEAGUE II, THE FLINTSTONES, GETTING EVEN WITH DAD). So this is pretty much an elite squad of the greatest comedy minds of– you know what, I’m not gonna say anything mean. But these are the kind of people who come up with extended comedy bits like “Cadbury is this uptight British guy but then he has to wear the clothes of a biker guy in jail, can you believe it?”
So anyway, I’ve seen this one twice now. You never know where life will take you.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.