“Home Sweet Home Alone” takes everything audiences loved about the Chris Columbus-directed, John Hughes-penned original and turns it around on them. Holiday sentimentality co-mingling with slapstick violence hits differently when the filmmakers not only swap the roles of the empathetic protagonist and dastardly antagonists, but also take a both-sides approach to rooting interest. While this might seem like an ingenious way to reinvigorate a long-run-into-the-ground franchise where a child faces off against bumbling burglars, this Disney Plus offering maddeningly fails to lean into the aspects it so desperately and ambitiously seeks to change. Mean-spirited, downright sloppy and awkwardly unfunny, this rote feature reboot lacks holiday cheer.
Jeff and Pam McKenzie (Rob Delaney and Ellie Kemper) are begrudgingly selling their home as they can no longer make their mortgage payments. Tech wiz Jeff has been unemployed for months and Pam’s teacher’s salary is dwindling. The cash-strapped couple is also scrambling to keep the devastating news from their perceptive teen daughter Abby (Katie Beth Hall) and tween son Chris (Max Ivutin). But with Christmas fast approaching and the seller’s market booming, the sad reality of losing their home during the joyful season is hitting them hard.
After hearing a story of someone who turned their trash into treasure at auction, Jeff remembers his mother’s collection of German antique porcelain dolls stored in their bedroom closet. His research reveals there’s one in particular — a lederhosen-clad boy with an upside-down head — that could rescue the family from their financial woes as it’s worth over $200K. However, when he goes to look for it, he sees it’s missing and knows just who took it: spoiled 10-year-old relative stranger Max Mercer (Archie Yates), who visited their recent open house. The timing couldn’t be worse as Max’s mom (Aisling Bea), who’s Tokyo-bound with her extended family, has mistakenly left her son home alone. Convoluted and over-explained hijinks ensue as the harried marrieds break into Max’s manse in an attempt to get the family heirloom back.
Shifting the primary focus from the kid to the adults is certainly an innovative choice. Yet it’s done no favors in execution, frequently forgetting to be lively, humorous and endearing along the way. Director Dan Mazer and screenwriters Mikey Day and Streeter Seidell bend over backward to needlessly rationalize and continually remind us of the reasons why Jeff and Pam are harassing Max — who, by way of a misunderstanding, thinks the couple are human traffickers out to kidnap him. Max also isn’t exactly innocent as he shows no empathy toward others on multiple occasions, practically stealing from a toy donation table, not to mention the item he takes from the McKenzies’ home. His trials and travails dealing with familial chaos are of a similar hue to the original story by Hughes (who receives a co-screenplay and story by credit), except with rushed, ham-handed character motivations and without any earned emotions. And, unlike the original, secondary characters either in Max’s family or the McKenzies’ don’t leave their mark, only serving to pad the run time.
The narrative struggles to assign the power positions of tormenter and victim. They’re constantly in flux, causing audience sympathy to eventually wane as we question why we want to see victims of financial hardship get pummeled by a little rich kid. Pratfalls endemic to this series might have youngsters laughing, but it takes a very long time to work up to that point, so pint-sized audience members — and possibly their parents — will have surely tuned out by then. The film takes on a celebratory tone whenever Max defeats his perceived bullies. Clearly the filmmakers want to illustrate everyone here has their reasons to fight for their homes, but failing to define who’s in the right or wrong comes across as pure incompetence.
Amid such lackluster material, the film’s cast rarely shine in their roles, which is confounding given all are capable, talented performers who have turned in excellent work on other projects. Yates (“Jojo Rabbit”) naturally radiates charisma, but the script often mutes it, doing him a disservice. Kemper (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”) and Delaney (“Catastrophe”) have trouble getting a proper handle on the heartfelt aspects of their roles which clash against the comedic. Even the inclusion of Buzz McCallister (Devin Ratray), playing a private security guard patrolling the neighborhood, is too under-written to stoke the fires of nostalgia as it should.
It’s baffling that “Home Sweet Home Alone” didn’t turn out better as, on paper, the list of cast and creatives reads like an ideal marriage of talent and vision. Mazer, who wrote on such prank-heavy projects as “Da Ali G Show” and “Borat,” and Seidell and Day, who’ve worked on “Saturday Night Live” (Day’s “Dad Prank Video” is an offshoot of Kevin McCallister’s mischievous escapades), come from notable modern schools of comedy, innately knowing how to get a laugh. But their attempts at slapstick and self-aware jokes land with a dull thud. The film’s downfall is leaning too far into parental drama, and blunting the satisfying feeling kids have watching their cinematic avatar demonstrate physical and mental aptitude. The iconic original “Home Alone” captured lightning in a bottle. Perhaps it’s true that we can never truly go home again.
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