Eleven year old Preston Waters (Brian Bonsall) laments a lack of pocket money from his frugal parents keeps him from having fun like other kids. One day Preston's bicycle gets crushed by a car driven by Carl Quigley (Miguel Ferrer). He quickly writes the kid a blank check before anyone discovers he is an escaped bank robber. When Preston goes to cash the check, Edward Bidermen (Michael Lerner), the bank president secretly in cahoots with the criminal, mistakes him for Quigley's go-between. He lets the kid walk away with one million dollars. Flush with cash, Preston sets about making his wildest dreams come true. Until an enraged Quigley tracks him down.
Disney's entry in the Nineties' post-Home Alone (1990) smart-alec-brat-takes-on-dumb-crooks sub-genre was critically lambasted in its day. Yet has latterly been embraced by some as a minor classic. Part of the fascination may be due to the script being co-written by Blake Snyder. Later the author of trend-setting screenwriter's bible 'Save the Cat.' Snyder's only other produced screenplay was the infamous Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992). Others fondly recall Blank Check for its eclectic cast including rapper Tone Loc (as Quigley's lecherous henchman), dancer-choreographer Debbie Allen of Fame (1980), er, fame and most notably foxy MTV VJ Karen Duffy (also a correspondent on Michael Moore's shows TV Nation and The Awful Truth). Duffy plays Shay Stanley, an undercover FBI agent posing as a bank teller to expose Biderman. She also becomes Preston's love interest. That's right. In this children's movie a grown woman is our boy hero's love interest. Along with buying all the toys, cookies and ice cream he could want, Preston uses his new-found wealth to sweep Shay away for a night on the town. This results in a 'sensual', 'romantic' scene wherein the pair run hand-in-hand through a water fountain. Whereupon Shay emerges dripping wet while Preston looks excited. Which depending on the viewer either fueled adolescent fantasies or made grownups very uncomfortable.
Questionable romantic entanglements aside it is not hard to see why critics took against Blank Check back in 1994. While polished and pacy with punchy visuals by Bill Pope, future cinematographer on The Matrix (1999), this supposed children's film has a decidedly cynical world-view. One at odds with its would-be moralistic message. Though the film establishes Preston as an underdog from the get-go, bullied by peers and older brother and neglected by his tightwad business-obsessed dad (James Rebhorn), he still comes across a self-entitled brat. One who views his parents chiefly as a means of acquiring stuff. Once Preston gets his grubby little mitts on that sweet dough he goes on the expected shopping spree, but also acquires a huge mansion and lords it over his new-found hirelings, barking orders at all save Henry (Rick Ducommun), his chauffeur-cum-sidekick. To cover his tracks Preston poses as the mouthpiece for a fictitious mogul named Mr. Macintosh. Inexplicably no-one questions why a successful businessman would hire an eleven year old to handle his transactions. Eventually Preston discovers money has made him more isolated than he already was. However the script mistakenly lays the blame entirely on his father's neglect and the perceived venality of society in general rather than grounding it in a flaw in his character or behaviour.
British director Rupert Wainwright - who went from helming music videos for the likes of N.W.A. and M.C. Hammer to a very eclectic film career including The Sadness of Sex (1998), demonic possession horror Stigmata (1999) and the 2005 remake of The Fog - brings an undeniable exuberance to proceedings. Blank Check certainly moves at a fair clip and has Preston exhibit a level of ingenuity and chutzpah that probably thrilled some young viewers. Even if some of his financial wrangling is a lot less easy for kids to grasp than Macauley Culkin bludgeoning burglars. In fact the third act more or less re-stages Home Alone as Preston has a slapstick battle with three crooks invading his mansion, relying not just on his wits but all the gadgets he bought with the stolen money. Further undercutting the film's moral.