You know you're in trouble when "Chariots of Fur," a 6-minute cartoon, is 10 times better than the movie it precedes.

- Even if it is the legendary Chuck Jones' first theatrical animated short in 25 years!- Even if it is a hilarious Road Runner-Wile E. Coyote adventure!

- Even if it is full of cartoon violence and still gets a G rating!

On the other hand, the live-action film is "Richie Rich," Macaulay Culkin's latest . . . so perhaps we should have seen it coming.

Based on the popular comic books, "Richie Rich" casts Culkin as the title character, the world's richest kid. His parents have $70 billion, and though they are philanthropists, Richie lives in a high-priced fantasy world.

Richie is an expert baseball player, thanks to batting tips at the mound on his estate - from Reggie Jackson. And when "Arnold" can't make it, his fill-in personal aerobics trainer is none other than Claudia Schiffer.

Richie even has his own inventor, patterned along the lines of James Bond's "Q," the guy who comes up with all of 007's lifesaving gadgets - Prof. Keenbean (Michael McShane, who seems to be in training to succeed Dom DeLuise). Richie even has his own McDonald's, right there in the mansion.

The central plot kicks into gear when evil Lawrence Van Dough (John Larroquette) plants a bomb on the Rich's private jet, and Richie's parents (Edward Herrmann, Christine Ebersole) find themselves at sea in a raft . . . packed with champagne and pate.

While they are presumed dead, Van Dough takes over the business. But, with the help of his devoted butler, Cadbury (Jonathan Hyde), Richie steps in to run things himself. All seems to be going well, until Van Dough starts playing rough. He frames Cadbury for the bombing and tries to steal the Rich fortune.

The final third of the film turns into "Home Alone 3: Lost In My House" - and Culkin even gets to say his trademark line, "I don't think so." But when Richie and friends start flinging bags of manure at the bad guys and Prof. Keenbean uses a remote-control bee as a weapon, even those who chuckled initially will be looking for the exit.

The climax is a literal cliffhanging sequence on Mount Richmore, a mountainside family portrait, which is supposed to parody Hitchcock's famous "North By Northwest" climax. (There's even a glimpse of that film on a television, apparently to signal us that it's coming.) But instead, just like everything that has gone before it's deadly dull.

And the level of violence here is quite harsh for a kids movie. Shooting a child, even if he is wearing a bullet-proof vest, is just not funny.

Culkin's rise in films is a remarkable story, which only seems the more outrageous because it's true. His only successes have been the two (admittedly, hugely successful) "Home Alone" movies, in which he was merely required to be cute and throw things at Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern.

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In typical Hollywood fashion, studio chiefs have let his family and agents parlay those two hit pictures into a $7 million per-film career, without considering that perhaps "cute" isn't enough for a preteen or teenager.

But Culkin's acting ability is questionable after "Getting Even With Dad" earlier this year, and now "Richie Rich," as evidence that his line readings are flat at best and his "cute" act is wearing out its welcome.

Anyone out there who is still a Macaulay Culkin fan after this one is downright masochistic.

"Richie Rich" is rated PG, despite a considerable amount of violence (comic and otherwise), as well as profanity and vulgarity.

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