CAST: Archie Yates, Ellie Kemper, Rob Delaney, Aisling Bea, Kenan Thompson, Ally Maki, Pete Holmes, Chris Parnell, Timothy Simons, Andy Daly, Mikey Day, Devin Ratray
RUNNING TIME: 93 mins
BASICALLY…: When he is accidentally left on his own for the holidays, young Max (Yates) must protect his home from a pair of thieves (Kemper and Delaney)…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Home Alone, the 1990 box office phenomenon and timeless Christmas classic, really was lightning captured in a bottle, spawning dozens of family-friendly imitators that could never amount to the incredible success that film experienced. Not even the sequels to Home Alone could recapture that spark (save Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, which like its immediate predecessor is slowly becoming just as beloved a festive family tradition), with the Macaulay Culkin-less Home Alone 3 being particularly mauled by critics, who had even less kind things to say about the two direct-to-TV sequels that followed (which, from what I hear of them, aren’t worth even mentioning).
If you’re somehow hoping that Home Sweet Home Alone, the new sixth entry overseen by 20th Century Studios’ new overlord Disney, will buck the trend of Home Alone sequels finally living up to the original, then we have some pretty bad news for you. Not only is Home Sweet Home Alone a complete stain on the franchise’s legacy, but it is a really, truly terrible movie that is utterly painful to sit through, especially if you’re the type who puts on the first two films ever year for the festive season.
The plot is very close to that of the original, only in this one it’s a kid named Max (played by Jojo Rabbit scene-stealer Archie Yates) who gets left behind when his whole family hops on a flight to Tokyo for the holidays. Initially excited to have the whole house to himself, his joy is short-lived when neighbouring couple Jeff and Pam (Rob Delaney and Ellie Kemper) attempt to break in and retrieve a precious heirloom, which of course leads to the numerous traps and slapstick that everyone thinks Home Alone is all about.
Except, Home Alone was never about the slapstick. Yes, it’s what everyone loves about the movie, but it really just takes place during the third act; the movie leading up to young Macaulay Culkin taking on the Wet Bandits is primarily about Culkin’s Kevin learning the true value of family, facing up to some of his fears, and generally learning to be a more appreciative kid. It is a truly heartfelt movie, with excellent writing by John Hughes, gorgeous snowy cinematography, and performances which are not only funny but extremely memorable thirty years after its debut.
There is absolutely none of that in Home Sweet Home Alone. This is a movie made purely for cynical reasons, so that Disney/20th Century Studios can cling onto the rights so that the franchise doesn’t hop to another studio which may, God forbid, treat it a little better. It plays heavily into viewers’ nostalgia for the first (and occasionally second) Home Alone, repeating or repurposing memorable lines of dialogue, reusing elements of John Williams’ score for the original, and even reheating entire slapstick routines while trying to pass it off as something new; all of it, by the way, with zero of the timing, patience, or even intelligence that made the first one so memorable. Everything here feels so forced, and aiming for the lowest common denominator in a desperate attempt to squeeze some laughs out of a humour-free script (co-written by current SNL featured player Mikey Day, who has proven to be way funnier than this), whether we’re talking about lazily-placed fart jokes or predictable physical humour that is always telegraphed.
The movie features a cameo by Devin Ratray as Buzz McCallister from the first two films, now working as a police officer who makes passing reference to his younger brother Kevin’s experiences, and he is by far the most likeable character in the entire movie, way more so than any of the other people we’re unfortunately stuck with. This is especially true with our young “protagonist” Max, who ends up being more of an antagonistic menace than the designated “villains”, who we learn are just a struggling couple trying to get something of theirs back after Max stole it on account of him being kind of a brat in the opening scenes. One quick rewrite, and both Rob Delaney and Ellie Kemper are the film’s true protagonists, while Max is the annoying kid villain that they have to fight against; unfortunately, this is a Home Alone movie, and God forbid they do something different with the established formula. You don’t care about any of these people because they’re annoying, unilaterally stupid, and selfish to the point where the couple abandon their own daughter’s church recital just to break into this house. Take cues from the original Home Alone, where the characters certainly had issues (even Kevin could be a little bratty at times) but they were always acknowledged and dealt with, including Catherine O’Hara whose entire sub-plot in that film is her trying desperately to get back home to her young son, wherein she legitimately expresses guilt and shame about her mistakes; here, there are no consequences, no stakes, and no hard lessons learned for any of these people, not even Max’s mother (played by a completely useless Aisling Bea) who goes through absolutely none of what O’Hara went through in the first one, not even a cross-country van ride with John Candy and his band.
It’s not even a well-made movie, with director Dan Mazer (whose previous film Dirty Grandpa now feels like a stark warning for the direction of this film) lazily framing and shooting everything like it’s a TV sitcom, with zero ambition under its heavy corporate mandate. Most of the actors look bored whilst giving half-hearted performances, particularly Ellie Kemper who looks like she desperately misses being on the set of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and the cinematography, editing, score (when it’s not redoing John Williams’ music) and virtually everything else has absolutely no life to it. It is all just an insultingly cynical ploy on Disney’s part to flaunt how it now has access to this franchise, and can do whatever the hell it wants with it; that’s bad enough, but the fact that it’s poorly made and horribly written just makes it absolutely intolerable.
This is one of the most difficult movies I’ve had to watch this year, and regardless of whether or not you enjoy watching Home Alone around this time of year, you’ll likely find it just as painful an experience as I did. It might not be as hatefully offensive as Music, or as horribly made as The Resort, but Home Sweet Home Alone deserves its bottom-of-the-barrel grade based purely on the fact that it takes something as endearing as Home Alone and strangles all the life out of it, leaving nothing left but the cold, rotting corpse of a franchise that desperately needs to be left alone.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Home Sweet Home Alone is a lifeless insult to the legacy of Home Alone, rehashing its plot, characters and slapstick with zero of the original’s heart and timing, making it nothing more than a purely cynical cash-grab that nobody should have to endure.