There’s a moment in Home Sweet Home Alone, the new remake/legacy sequel headed to Disney+ this week, that speaks to the movie as a whole – a character is watching a remake of Angels with Filthy Souls, the fake gangster movie from 1990’s original Home Alone. This version of Angels with Filthy Souls is a lousy sci-fi movie; everyone is wearing bad make-up and there are unconvincing space effects. And just as quickly as this idea is introduced, it’s just as quickly dismissed – by a character pointing out how crummy it is and, indeed, how unnecessary too. Home Sweet Home Alone is indeed that crummy, unnecessary sequel and it’s easy to imagine countless Disney+ subscribers being just as dismissive.
Unlike the original Home Alone, this iteration is much more interested in the would-be thieves. And instead of being actual scumbags, they are put-upon middle-class parents – Pam (Ellie Kemper) and Jeff Fritzovski (Rob Delaney). He’s a data migration specialist who has been out of work because of the cloud (if you like jokes about the cloud, you’re going to love this movie). They are so hard-pressed that they put the family house up for sale without even telling their kids. Their luck seemingly changes when they realize that an antique doll they inherited is worth $200,000. The only problem is that an obnoxious little kid named Max (Archie Yates from Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit) has stolen the doll… Also, but almost unrelatedly, he has also been left home alone while his loud, rambunctious family goes on holiday to Japan. Pam and Jeff try to retrieve the doll from Max, wacky hijinks ensue, and lessons about the importance of family and the holiday of togetherness are begrudgingly learned. It is all incredibly tedious.
This new Home Alone attempts to reinvent the formulaestablished by the original (and to a lesser degree the first sequel, which is referenced here) and makes gravemissteps at virtually every turn. The decision to focus on the would-be criminals is obviously the biggest and most crippling blunder. Part of the fun of the original movie was that when the intruders were being lit on fire or (in the case of this film) repeatedly being shot with a T-shirt canon loaded with bone-crunching billiard balls, that there was a level of catharsis to the violence; a kind of primal satisfaction. The characters played so memorably by Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci were genuinely bad guys and the brutality that was inflicted upon them really stung.(Remember the nail in the foot?) There was no redemption for them; they didn’t come to some deeper understanding. Instead, they were jerks who got what was coming to them.
In Home Sweet Home Alone they are, by all accounts, just nice people – they have lovely children, go to church, volunteer at an old folks’ home. They’re trying to get their property back. That’s pretty much it. But the torture hasn’t been lessened; instead you just feel bad for laughing.(Kemper you can kind of see as the badguy, but only because of her troubling past.) And by shifting the focus away from the kid (and Yates is very cute and funny), you don’t sympathize with him. There isn’t the element of melancholy that was very much present in the original film. Yes, there was goofy stuff, like him running around the house and watching inappropriate movies; here it’s very clear that Max has already seen all of those movies since one of the first things he does is dress like Al Pacino from “Scarface” and bury himself in a giant mound of candy, arranged just like Tony Montana’s mountain of cocaine.
Everything about Home Sweet Home Alone feels like a catastrophic downgrade – the original movie’s house is one of the most iconic homes in movie history. It perfectly encapsulated early 90s style, that kind of overstuffed affluence, but it also felt homie, a place that you wouldn’t mind being marooned inside of. It was also gorgeous. They sell a LEGO version of it, for crying out loud. Max’s house here is fine. But it’s devoid of personality. There aren’t the nooks and crannies that the original house had;the scary boiler in the basement or the cool attic. (In this movie, Max falls asleep while watching Warner Bros. cartoons in the family BMW, a bit of egregious product placement.) Also, this is supposed to take place in the same upscale Chicago suburb as the original but is very clearly shot somewhere in Canada (I’ll say this for it, for at least some of the movie the snow looks very real). The filmmakers should have realized that if the movie is called Home Alone, the home should probably impress. It does not.
We should probably take a moment to talk about how the movie connects to the original; throughout we see signs for “McAllister Security;” the logo for the company is the unforgettable home logo from the original film (repurposed without the oomph during the title card for Home Sweet Home Alone too). It’s referenced that Macaulay Culkin’s character owns the company, but we never see him. But we do see another character from the franchise – his dimwitted older brother Buzz (Devin Ratray), now a police officer. And that’s pretty much it.
While that is the only direct reference to the original, Home Alone casts a very large shadow over this film. John Debney, who has done incredible sound-alike scores in the past (him aping Alan Silvestri for Predators is one of the highlights of that film) but here borrows whole section from John Williams score (Williams gets his own credit). And there are so many familiar story beats that John Hughes, whose screenplay for the original is ridiculously clever and so underrated, gets a “story by” credit even though he’s been dead for more than ten years. It’s sort of incredible that this many funny people (director Dan Mazer is a close collaborator of Sacha Baron Cohen and the cast includes Pete Holmes, Kenan Thompson, Chris Parnell, and Aisling Bea) could make a movie so devoid of all the things that made the original so classic – the laughs, the suspense, the humanity, and the heart. Oh well. Guess we’ll have to hold out hope for Home Sweet Home Alone 2: Lost in Winnipeg.