A boy is left at his home alone while his family is off on vacation and must soon defend his house from two burglars trying to steal a valuable doll.
The original Home Alone became an instant hit in 1990 because watching the undeniably, even iconically charming Macaulay Culkin embrace life on his own and use creative, dangerous means of thwarting Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern is eternally entertaining. The reason why it has remained a holiday season staple for 30 years is that laced within all the holiday mayhem is also a sweet, warm story about togetherness, aided by John Williams on the keys with that classic of Christmas movie scores. Now decades and several forgettable sequels later, new entry Home Sweet Home Alone exists solely for New Disney Movie to flex how much franchisable IP it now has after acquiring 20th Century Fox, which actually wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if the movie had any shred of the memorable qualities of the original and wasn’t an immense miss on everything it tries to accomplish.
This new Home Alone is the kind of movie that, when it ends, I was immediately trying to decide who to blame for the wreckage. The easy answer when it comes to cheap grabs at nostalgia is the studio itself, who perhaps demanded that the key plot of the “Home Alone” angle needs to be a carbon copy of the original. Young Max Mercer (Archie Yates of JoJo Rabbit) and his mother Carol (Aisling Bea) have a scene or two where they disagree with each other, and when the former feels left out in a house full of family members, he decides to find some peace and quiet in a product-placed BMW. In the morning, he finds he has been left home alone by neglectful adult family members, who in shuttling all the other kids into a series of SUVs, just never thought to think of him.
You can tell this was all a requirement of the studio, because that’s exactly how it’s handled by director Dan Mazer (writer on the Borat movies, but director of Dirty Grandpa) and writers Mikey Day and Streeter Seidell (SNL alums). This whole side of the story is entirely glossed over as if to appease a studio and do the bare minimum for fans of the original, hitting the plot points with no logic or reason as if to say, “Yeah yeah you know this part but we gotta do it again anyway.” Again, maybe this would have been fine had it embraced a sort of “wink wink” or, at the very least, a little wit. But, alas, on all fronts, this is an empty stocking.
Max has some fun making a mess out of the house as any kid would: playing violent video games, using a yoga ball on the trampoline, and I guess dressing up like Tony Montana and diving his face into a pile of candy on a desk. Yates is an understandable choice for the role, demonstrating a sense of humor beyond his age in Rabbit by being able to land a joke that adults could laugh at, but in a way so undeniably innocent that kids could relate to. But here, he’s just put through the ringers in a side of the story that feels obligatory, and he’s not given the space to dominate like he very well could.
While the original had Culkin’s Kevin MacCallister doing the same things while home alone, the script from John Hughes also had the nerve to use the story to eventually dig into themes of family, as Kevin slowly realizes being alone isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Here, that angle is belly-flopped onto, with New HBO Max Movie having one day of fun before stumbling onto the realization he wants his family back. While Kevin’s mom (Catherine O’Hara) also gets her moments of reflection while trying to get back home, Carol’s side of the story is mostly used for attempts at comedy as she gets into panic mode, and then deals with a mildly annoying man on the plane ride back. No real emotional depth is mined from any angle of this story — at least none that are genuinely earned or uniquely crafted — which it all feels like an obligatory exercise in living up to the title for nostalgic purposes, with zero added to make the movie it’s own.
Where the writers do try and put their spin on the story, and yet still plummet harder than Joe Pesci down a flight of stairs, is in focusing the bulk of the story on the would-be thieves. Pam and Jeff Fritzovski (Ellie Kemper, Rob Delaney) are on the verge of losing their house and realize that a creepy antique doll Jeff’s mother left him is worth an insane amount of money. Turns out, they believe Max stole it during an open house for their home, and believe the only way to get it back is breaking into the Mercer home to get it back.
Admittedly, I understand why Day and Seidell would want to write the story this way. It puts a new spin on the story and makes the “bandits” out to be more than goofy, idiotic criminals. The problem is, I can’t imagine any member of any family watching this movie to find most of the parts of Pam and Jeff’s story the least bit entertaining. So much time is spent on them confronting the reality of losing their home as if to justify why they should break into this family home, even when they discover there is indeed a child living in there, and could easily just knock on the door and ask for the doll back. But even for a 90-minute runtime that doesn’t always focus on them, their side of the story is too stretched out to be made the sole focus of, failing to be more interesting or entertaining than the already regurgitated story going on with Max.
In essence, this Home Alone soon becomes less of a story about a kid being home alone and more about a husband and wife trying to justify a “B & E”. In that regard, there is room to tell a story about how their own actions impact their family life, but like with Max sort of stumbling upon his own realization with little work being put in on the screen, so too is there no work put in to show how their focus on their plan is effecting their family at home. Yeah, they miss a recital and are gone for periods of time, but that’s about it. The rest of the time is dedicated to bland hijinks that paint them both as bad criminals and stupid people. At the end, when everything needs to come together for a heartfelt finale, it’s about as deep as cheap and half-assed as a Christmas card from that one aunt you forget about until you open the card and go “Oh, she’s still around?”
The original movie has been called out for the severity of Kevin’s schemes on the bandits trying to get into his home in, but Culkin’s performance and the effort put into making him seem genuinely clever do the work of selling it. When the big climax involving all the traps happens here, there is no charm to any of it, so it all just seems like overly violent chaos. Just about everything Max conceives was either done in the original (toys on the floor, things tied to ropes on the stairs, etc.) or could instantly kill the husband or wife (firing billiards balls out of a t-shirt cannon, unleashing falling icicles, launching exercise equipment at them, etc.). The fact they go through such hell even feels a bit counterintuitive to the fact we’re supposed to sympathize with them more. When it happens to Pesci and Stern, they pretty much deserve it. When it happens to Pam and Jeff, it seems extra cruel and far less funny.
Luckily, even a movie like this is able to sneak in a few solid chuckles, which is thanks to those involved getting names like Kenan Thompson, Jim Rash, Pete Holmes, Chris Parnell, and a few more to come in and drop a few good one-liners. When the sight gags flop, it’s good to know that even with genuinely funny people like Kemper, Delaney, and the supporting cast showing up, it’s hard for them not to get at least one good line in. And to say I didn’t care for the gags doesn’t mean young ones won’t. A fart gag or two and the final climax of playful-yet-still-cruel violence should put a smile on the face of little ones who bask in the small pleasure of adults being smacked around by inanimate objects. I guess there’s a point in time where that’s all any of us craves, and for that crowd, I suppose it will deliver that gift, if only in the final act.
At the end of this mostly unfunny experience, it’s painfully clear this is a movie that’s trying to have its cake and simultaneously reinvent our conception of what that cake actually is, and as a result, ruins the entire idea of cake for everyone. And if it seemed like I did too much of a comparison to the original, I will say it’s because this movie trying to be like the original is the only reason it exists, and is a key reason why it’s such a failure. If you’re a parent thinking this is a good way to share something you liked as a kid with your young one, I beg you, just show them the original. Both you and your brain cells will thank you for it.
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