Home Sweet Home Alone review: The problem isn’t that they remade a holiday classic, just that it’s bad

·4-min read
Home Sweet Home Alone review: The problem isn’t that they remade a holiday classic, just that it’s bad

Dir: Dan Mazer. Starring: Ellie Kemper, Rob Delaney, Archie Yates, Aisling Bea, Kenan Thompson, Pete Holmes. Cert PG, 95 minutes

This might be a controversial thing to say, but I don’t think Home Alone is too sacred to be remade. Its premise is simple and sturdy: a mischievous, gremlin child sets off a series of handmade traps in order to fend off a pair of home intruders. You could easily recycle that idea a hundred times – the 1990 film already has four sequels of its own. What damage could Home Sweet Home Alone possibly do at this point? Is anyone surprised that Disney would want to crank a little more money out of the franchise, having acquired it as part of its 21st Century Fox takeover?

No, the problem with Home Sweet Home Alone isn’t that it had the temerity to encroach on a holiday classic. It’s that they bungled the whole thing so badly. This really shouldn’t be hard: find a cute kid (and they have, in the form of Jojo Rabbit’s Archie Yates), and then string together a few comically implausible ways to injure another human being. If they had to “update” it, sure, someone could have been assaulted by a Peleton bike. That would have worked. But Home Sweet Home Alone decides, somewhat arbitrarily, to switch everything up – the kid is now an utter arsehole while the burglars are sympathetic, which results in the audience rooting for criminals while really just hoping that everyone would quit it and go to sleep.

The script, by Saturday Night Live writers Mikey Day and Streeter Seidell, is unnecessarily confusing. In this version, the child in question, Max, and his mother, Carol (Aisling Bea), stop off to use the bathroom at a suburban open house, hosted by Pam Fritzovski (Ellie Kemper) and Jeff Fritzovski (Rob Delaney). Max finds Jeff packing up a box of antique dolls and decides to make fun of him because of well, I don’t know, homophobia? Later that night, Jeff uncovers pieces of information: first, that one of the dolls is worth a fortune and could solve all their financial problems, and second, that it appears Max stole the thing in some kind of unspecified act of revenge. The obvious next step is that he and Pam should break into Max’s home and steal it back.

An unnerving amount of the plot is centred around various bits of product placement – in this version, Max is accidentally left home alone over Christmas because he crawled into the family BMW and fell asleep watching cartoons on its in-seat television (look at how large & crisp the screen is, the film cries). This, in turn, is part of some larger contrivance in which Max is forgotten because his family are booked on two separate flights to Tokyo over Christmas – which means, in fact, that he wasn’t really forgotten at all, doesn’t feel unappreciated by his family, and does not feel the need to learn any lessons over the course of the film. So what is Home Sweet Home Alone even meant to be about?

Pam Fritzovski (Ellie Kemper) and Jeff Fritzovski (Rob Delaney) break in to steal a doll that’s worth a fortune (Disney+)
Pam Fritzovski (Ellie Kemper) and Jeff Fritzovski (Rob Delaney) break in to steal a doll that’s worth a fortune (Disney+)

There’s been a longstanding debate over whether Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin McCallister would, in reality, one day grow up to be the next Zodiac Killer. Torture really did come naturally to him. Max is less overtly maniacal in his tricks – largely because the writers couldn’t think of anything more inventive than “a shaken-up Pepsi bottle”, “hot sauce in milk”, and “a very bright light”. But he’s also been systematically robbed of any of the hands-clapped-to-the-sides-of-his-face-in-shock charm of his predecessor. Max back talks to his mother, attempts to steal from a charity drive, and seems overly acquainted with the film Scarface. Considering how wonderful Yates was as the comedic sidekick in Jojo Rabbit, making him say and do all these terrible and unfunny things feels like the emotional equivalent of watching your local Santa’s Grotto burn down. It’s all so joyless and mean – the jokes about underwear fetishes and OJ Simpson; the consistent fat-shaming of Delaney.

The only trace of the original Home Alone is in the return of a now-adult Buzz McCallister (Devin Ratray), Kevin’s bullying older brother who’s since joined the police force. That would technically make Home Sweet Home Alone another sequel, despite the fact that a character, at one point, attempts to break the fourth wall and quip: “I dont know why they’re always trying to remake the classics, they’re never as good as the original”. Home Sweet Home Alone doesn’t even know what it is, let alone what it should be doing.

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