Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.
What's the Big Deal?
Home Sweet Home Alone is a festive family comedy film released in 2021. It is the sixth film in the Home Alone series and the first to premier on digital streaming services. Directed by Dan Mazer, the film sees a young boy stranded at home after the rest of his family leave for Tokyo for Christmas and a pair of desperate parents attempting to steal back a valuable item from the boy's house. The film stars Ellie Kemper, Rob Delaney, Archie Yates and Aisling Bea. Devin Ratray, who starred in the first film, reprises his role in a cameo. The film's production was delayed due to the global pandemic but the film was eventually released exclusively on Disney's own streaming service, meaning that box office figures for the film are unlikely to ever be published. However, reaction to the film was extremely negative from critics and audiences alike with the trailer on YouTube receiving more than 79'000 dislikes after just three days.
What's It About?
Jeff and Pam McKenzie have hit hard times after Jeff loses his job, finding themselves forced into trying to sell their home without their children Abby and Chris finding out. With Christmas approaching, the McKenzies have an 'open house' day with many viable buyers having a look around the place. However, two such visitors - Carol Mercer and her young son Max - have only popped in because Max badly needs a bathroom break. Afterwards, Max has a brief conversation with Jeff who is reminiscing about his late grandmother via a box of creepy old dolls she used to collect, one of which has its head on upside-down. Carol then arrives to collect Max, remarking to Jeff that such unusual dolls can often find a good price at auction.
At the end of the day, Jeff is checking out online how much the doll is worth and was astonished to find that it is worth around $200'000 which is more than enough to keep them in their home. Unfortunately, the doll is missing and Jeff reckons that Max must have stolen it. Upon discovering where they live, Jeff and Pam quickly discover that Max has been left behind by his family as they leave in a hurry for Tokyo. Deciding that they have every right to steal their own property back, they slowly hatch a plan to break in and retrieve the doll from Max - who is blissfully unaware of their schemes but soon vows to defend his home in the only way he knows how...
What's to Like?
Given that my last experience of watching any of the Home Alone franchise was the contemptable Home Alone 3, my enthusiasm for Home Sweet Home Alone wasn't exactly sky high and neither were my expectations. Nevertheless, I gave the film every chance to impress me on some level and I'm pleased to say that there are one or two positives to take from this.
Only one or two, though.
Firstly, the film is set at Christmas time - I know, such things are trivial but after the debacle of that third film, this is a happy step in the right direction. The film even manages to arrange for Max to actually be left home alone in the traditional sense and not just have his parents at work. If you shut your eyes just enough to see the snow falling and listen to the musical cues that remind you of the original Home Alone then you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a much-needed updating of the long-time festive favourite. Ratray's cameo is humorous in its own way, even if it will make viewers who caught the first film at the time feel very old indeed. And I actually enjoyed Delaney's performance as one half of the dim-witted duo falling for the same old traps as before. He has none of Joe Pesci's mean streak but a more reluctant charm, like Barney Rubble from The Flintstones being coerced into a high-stakes heist. By contrast, Kemper feels much more pantomime as the other half and displays plenty of Lady Macbeth-style plotting and hand-rubbing.
Like every film in the series so far (because I doubt this will be the last we hear of it), the film sticks so closely to the original's script that Hughes even has a writing credit on this film despite being dead since 2009. This is fine if you've never seen a Home Alone film before but remember that this particular comedy is now more than thirty years old and it feels it. It even has the cheek to revisit certain locations from the first film such as the church where Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) spoke to the scary neighbour. It can't decide whether it's a reboot, a tribute or a tired reheating of the original and ultimately, the only thing it feels like is some desperate plumbing of a well that dried up years ago.
- It was reported during production that Culkin had agreed to appear in the film for a cameo, prompting the actor to issue a statement denying any such agreement. He wasn't the only one wishing to disassociate themselves with this film - director of the first two films Chris Columbus bemoaned the production of this film, asking what the point of it was and even script-writers Day & Seidell failed to promote their own film on social media.
- We learn in this film that Buzz McCallister, Kevin's bullying older brother in the first two films, is now a police officer who is still being pranked by Kevin after being left home alone twice. But he wasn't - in Home Alone 2: Lost In New York, Kevin is separated from his family after mistakenly being put onto a different flight from his family.
- Bea, who normally speaks with a beautiful Irish accent (please call me if you ever read this!), produces a commendable English accent for her character in this film which drew criticism online. Bea dismissed the chatter as "sort of what Twitter was created for: people to complain about things that don't matter".
What's Not to Like?
Honestly, it's difficult to know where to start with this dreary and unfunny flick. The script is primarily to blame as it simply regurgitates the lines, scenes and even dialogue from the first Home Alone and expects us to still find them funny after all this time. Comedy doesn't work like that, although I imagine only the youngest of viewers would find anything in this film that actually made them laugh. Everyone knows that you really only need to watch the last half hour or so when the dumb adults walk aimlessly into the various traps laid by the smarter kid but this film can't even do that! CG snowmen get destroyed and blatant editing removes any of the physicality required for the stunt work so you don't get the satisfaction of seeing people getting hit in the nuts like you used to.
Speaking of let downs, Yates simply doesn't come across as a likeable kid in the film. Yes, he doesn't scream all the time like Culkin did but he just got on my nerves - there seemed like genuine pleasure in his laughter watching these hapless morons almost die in a car crash or be set on fire. I had much more sympathy for Delaney and Kemper's characters, so when they fell victim to the pranks and attempted murders, it didn't feel like justice was being done. If they were legitimate bad guys, I would understand (but perhaps not condone) such behaviour. As it is, it feels a little bit wrong. So was the decision to have Bea put on an English accent instead of her native Irish one, for no other reason that I can determine other than to match the English accent Yates employs. Which then begs the question, why not just use American actors and save us the bother of working out why English people are living in deepest Illinois.
I had hoped that in the many years since the awful third film proved that the formula had ran out, someone may have injected some new ideas into this franchise which has been about as stagnant as Culkin's movie career since 1990. Sadly, it seems that little effort was made beyond blowing the dust of the script of the first film and making it all over again, save for a couple of tweaks here and there. For a company like Disney, this is lazy filmmaking at its worst and certainly not any sort of encouragement for anyone looking to subscribe to their streaming service. Anyone involved in the production either in front or behind the camera would be wise to scrub this off their filmography as quickly as possible and pretend this never happened. And if there was any doubt, the film kindly provides us with its own review halfway through via some dialogue:
"Uh, this is garbage. I don't know why they are always trying to remake the classics. Never as good as the originals."
Should I Watch It?
Only the very youngest of viewers will take anything away from Home Sweet Home Alone but even then, I'd think twice about putting my kids in front of this and not because I'd be worried about walking across vast swathes of Lego. This is painfully unfunny and tragically unoriginal, lacking any sort of spark to bring this corpse of a concept back to life. This is not the cinematic equivalent of receiving a lump of coal for Christmas - this is a bucket of steaming horse droppings without the bucket.
Great For: conning people into subscribing for Disney's streaming service (which I'm not mentioning here on purpose!), reminding viewers of the first film... urm, I'll get back to you...
Not So Great For: fans of the first film, anyone hoping for a good Christmas movie, anyone over the age of 12, anyone with an IQ above 12
What Else Should I Watch?
It might not have won over critics at the time but Home Alone proved to be massively popular and is now almost essential viewing for the festive period. I can still remember my mum laughing uncontrollably the first time we saw Pesci and Daniel Stern skid over ice and have irons slammed into their faces but there is something more to that film than just slapstick violence. Remember John Candy's polka-playing musician or Catherine O'Hara's frantic mother trying her hardest to get back to Chicago? In the franchise, the first film is easily the best - the subsequent entries are all testament to how much money the first film made and frankly, pale in comparison. I refuse to discuss Home Alone 3 because that experience was so traumatic that I can only recall it under hypnosis.
There are a multitude of festive-themed films to enjoy, so much so that an entire industry has sprung up churning out seasonal fare with the sort of regularity that would make Marvel envious. But why bother when the classics are the best? I simply adore It's A Wonderful Life, not just because of its Christmas setting but because I have rarely been touched by a story in any film in the way that I was with the tale of George Bailey's life. Both versions of Miracle On 34th Street - the 1947 original or the 1994 remake - are also fantastic Christmas films that examine the Santa Claus myth in wonderful detail whereas Will Ferrell's Elf is just pure old-fashioned fun, if a little lacking in the tradition sense. Finally, animation fans might get a kick out of a couple of recent efforts - The Polar Express is a CG adaptation of Chris Van Allberg's children book of the same name while 2009's A Christmas Carol give Charles Dickens' timeless fable the same treatment.
Mikey Day & Streeter Seidell*
Release Date (UK)
12th November, 2021
Action, Comedy, Family, Festive
© 2021 Benjamin Cox