The “Home Alone” franchise is the epitome of Hollywood desperation.
Yes, the 1990 original uncorked a sassy blend of yuletide sentiment and slapstick. It took a maestro like John Hughes, and a preternaturally wise star in Macauley Culkin, to pull that off.
It’s still the height of absurdity that a parent would forget his or her child, let alone fail to find a friend to stay with him until they returned. And yet we’ve seen four sequels and now a Disney+ reboot attempting to tell that story … again.
The latest franchise extension, “Home Sweet Home Alone” is light years from good. Plus, it’s a massive waste of charming players. And yet just try looking away, even for a minute. You must see what happens next, and how many discordant notes this remake can play.
Spoiler alert … lots and lots of ’em.
“Jojo Rabbit” standout Archie Yates gets the plum assignment here. He’s Max, a cheeky kid left home alone by his distracted parents. Or parent, in this case, as well-intentioned Ma (Aisling Bea) forgets him during a scramble to fly to Japan for the holidays.
Only Yates’ Max isn’t the focus of the film. It’s the updated version of the Wet Bandits, the Looney Tunes-style baddies from the first film, who get the most screen time.
Pam and Jeff Fritzovski (Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney) hope selling their house will solve their economic woes, even if it means breaking their teen kids’ hearts. The lads don’t want to leave the only home they’ve ever known, forcing Pam and Jeff to see a Realtor (Kenan Thompson) on the sly.
A convoluted plot twist has Max stealing a rare doll from the couple, who later realize it’s worth enough money to pay all their bills, and then some. Now, they’ll have to break into Max’s house to get it back.
Wait. These are the bad guys? Really?
Yes, and no. Making the burglars a struggling couple is one way to shake up the franchise, but when Max is doling out his “Home Alone-style punishment on them something feels … wrong.
Blame director Dan Mazer (“Dirty Grandpa”), who makes the slapstick here feel oh, so real. it’s not Wile E. Coyote plummeting from a mountain top but adults getting beaten to a pulp.
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Let’s give “Home Sweet Home Alone” some credit. It’s seriously toying with the franchise formula, from the kinder, gentler Wet Bandits to Max’s grating personality.
Does it matter that the changes rob the story of everything that makes it memorable?
The remake arrives with all the plot holes of any “Home Alone” title, and adds a few more to the tally. The screenplay attempts to explain a few away (why bother at this point?) but more often churns out exposition to set up future jokes and subplots.
The worst children’s films trot out gags unsuitable for young viewers, but “Home Sweet Home Alone” dodges that fate. We get a cringe-worthy fart joke and a few asides with double meanings. The kids won’t notice a thing, thank goodness.
Culkin’s forgotten lad had a field day in his big home, doing all the things a lively boy would do when left to his own devices. Here, Max gorges on candy after realizing his mother forgot him, but the wish fulfillment theme gets little attention.
How could it? The story constantly goes back to Pam and Jeff and how everything that could go wrong for them … does.
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A few jokes land here and there, while the deep cast saves some mediocre moments by sheer force of will. Both Kemper and Delaney gleefully absorb the film’s de factor punishment, and they never look embarrassed in the process.
Pete Holmes of “Crashing” fame gets a few legitimately sharp lines in a minor role. Perhaps they let him improv his dialogue?
“Home Sweet Home Alone” lacks Culkin’s inimitable charm, hiss-worthy villains, Christmas cheer and, well, just about everything that made “Home Alone” such a treat.
It has guts, though, and by embracing its toxic updates grabs our attention and never lets go.
HiT or Miss: Kids may enjoy the third act’s extreme slapstick, but everyone else will marvel at how a can’t miss gimmick misses by a country mile.