The idea of Home Sweet Home Alone being terrible should not shock anyone. For most people, there hasn’t been a great film with “home alone” in its title since 1990. For a select few, there hasn’t been an enjoyable Home Alone film since 1992. Quite possibly the only way a bad Home Alone movie could catch people’s attention nowadays is through sheer arrogance. Fortunately – or unfortunately – arrogance is something Home Sweet Home Alone never has in short supply. Any time it tries to shake up the formula amounts to almost nothing, and any time it calls back to the original film is downright embarrassing. So not only do you get a weak comedy, but you also get one that’s lazy in all the worst areas.
From the outset, it looks like we are in for an exact retread of the original film. A young boy who hates interacting with his extended family during Christmastime? Check! A wish for his family to disappear that eventually comes true out of neglect? Check! Defending the house from burglars while the family’s gone? Check! However, this is merely a skeleton for Mikey Day & Streeter Seidell’s screenplay. As it turns out, our boy of the day Max Mercer (Archie Yates) is not the sole protagonist. We also have to contend with soon-to-be burglars Pam (Ellie Kemper) and Hunter (Rob Delaney). Unlike most burglars who want to steal for the fun of it, they are after a rare doll that Max allegedly took from them. If they can retrieve the doll, they will be able to sell it online and clear up their financial troubles.
That right there is a prime showcase of Home Sweet Home Alone running into a wall. Humanizing the burglars is not an automatically bad move, but the story needs a clear-cut divide between heroes and villains for that to work. And no matter how much the script tries to make Max unlikable, he never comes across as evil. At most, he selfishly takes a toy meant for children in need. But outside of that, he’s no more bratty than your average kid. In all fairness, part of that is because of Yates’ sweet demeanor. Nevertheless, it had the chance to weaponize Yates’ natural charms, but it never takes that opportunity. Because of that, there is no one to root for or against, resulting in stakes that feel entirely weightless.
Doesn’t help either that Pam and Hunter encapsulate the film’s feeble attempt at managing tone. Given their introductory scenes, it seems as if director Dan Mazer wants to ground them in some form of reality. But by the time they become the formula-mandated burglars, they are indistinguishable from the cartoony figures that populated the previous Home Alone movies. Worse than that is how the character shift contradicts what it previously established. This is especially noticeable with Hunter, as he becomes a total buffoon once he breaks into the Mercer house. He is somehow smart enough to know data management and yet dumb enough to not know when he is wearing a VR headset.
With the burglars serving as ineffective leads, surely the movie compensates by fleshing out Max, right? You would be mistaken. Since Max has to share screentime with Pam and Hunter, Day & Seidell rush through his development at record speed. What made Kevin McCallister so endearing was seeing his initial joy of being alone slowly fade away as time went on. In some ways, this was his journey to be more open and kind to others. Meanwhile, Max jumps from being happy about being alone to being sad about it on a dime. And no, it’s not like he learns a valuable lesson other than to not steal toys intended for those in need. As a result, whatever he does only seems to happen because the plot requires it to be so.
We haven’t even gotten to the endless attempts at nostalgia baiting its audience! Some of these are predictable, such as the overuse of the John Williams music from the original film. Some… just exist, such as the brief return of Buzz McCallister (Devin Ratray). Others are much more unpleasant, such as the sci-fi reskin of Angels with Filthy Souls. First of all, giving it no more than a nod misses the point behind that fictional movie – it’s a violent film that Kevin got to watch unsupervised! More crucially, it is here that Home Sweet Home Alone tries to be self-aware about its existence. As a character watches this reskin, he complains about the incessant need to remake classics and how they can never top the originals. To see this movie of all things make that gesture is nothing short of agonizing.
There have been enough dreadful patches in Home Alone history for this to not feel like a once-in-a-lifetime disaster. And even tossing that aside, at least it picks up once it gets to the trap-heavy climax. If nothing else, it’s the one place where Mazer seems to wake up and indulge in fun staging. Still, this is yet another film to make me question Home Alone‘s viability as a franchise. Without the likes of John Hughes and Chris Columbus, a Home Alone movie is bound to be dead on arrival. And with Home Sweet Home Alone, we have another product to fill that status quo. I guess Disney’s purchase of 20th Century Fox didn’t lead to as many earth-shattering changes as I thought… – Mark Tan
Home Sweet Home Alone is available on Disney+.
The film stars Ellie Kemper, Rob Delaney, Archie Yates, Pete Holmes, Aisling Bea, and Devin Ratray.