Ever since I started reworking and posting old reviews from The Movie Critic: Book One (my amateurish attempt to emulate Roger Ebert’s Movie Home Companion) on here two and a half years ago, I’ve focused entirely on positive assessments. For the most part it’s been difficult to flesh out a good number of these roughly composed pieces, regardless of where I stood in my opinions. The writing is far from spectacular. But it’s been especially hard finding a decent pan to fix and publish.
After all this time, I’ve finally found one.
I screened Home Alone 2: Lost In New York at the Centre Mall Cinemas on November 28, 1992. Having been an enormous supporter of the original (I saw it twice in the same theatre and at least two more times on VHS), I was really looking forward to it. Much to my utter dismay, it turned out to be a terrible film, as you’ll learn in this revised review.
You might be wondering why there’s no Home Alone critique to go with it. Well, having looked at the second draft (an earlier, shorter version was submitted to my high school newspaper in 1990, I do believe), I realized there was too much focus on the early scenes of the film and not a lot of assessing going on. Like most of the reviews I’ve looked at, it couldn’t be rescued.
Home Alone 2 was number 118 in The Movie Critic: Book One’s original running order. It was clearly one of the better first drafts I had written during this period. As a result, this finished version you’re about to read retains a fair number of the original thoughts and feelings from that initial take, albeit in a much clearer manner. I did make one significant change, though. With the exception of Catherine O’Hara, I decided not to grumble about the acting. After thinking about it I realized John Hughes’ lacklustre screenplay was the biggest problem, not the performances. When great talent has to make due with subpar material, they’re not really at fault. As reflected in the original draft and this finished version, however, O’Hara’s work drove me crazy. And not in a good way.
One last thing. The original ending has been preserved but with a tighter, cleaner edit. It was a rare prescient moment for me to correctly predict that Home Alone 2 would not be the final film in the franchise. Home Alone 3 would surface without its star, Macaulay Culkin, in 1997. It’s no wonder I became an atheist the year before its release. No amount of praying could stop it from being made.
I’ve never seen it.
HOME ALONE 2: LOST IN NEW YORK
105 minutes, 1992
Macaulay Culkin–Kevin MacCallister
John Heard–Peter MacCallister
Catherine O’Hara–Kate MacCallister
Brenda Fricker–Bird Lady
Produced by John Hughes
Screenplay by John Hughes
Music by John Williams
Directed by Chris Columbus
Home Alone 2: Lost In New York is a transparently pathetic attempt to repeat the winning formula of the original blockbuster. Released a mere two years after its predecessor’s surprising success, it’s hard to understand the overblown hoopla for it. Even sadder is the fact that audiences who adored Home Alone have been flocking in droves to this one, as well. As a result, this inferior retread is making more money than it deserves to. How depressing.
Once again, Kevin MacCallister (Macauley Culkin reprising the role that made him a star) and his family are planning to go on a fun-filled Christmas vacation. In the first film, they were frantically getting organized for a jaunt to Paris to visit relatives. This time, instead of flying out of the country, The MacCallister clan is travelling to Florida. Of course, like the earlier installment, Kevin has a fight with his unsympathetic relatives who always appear to be picking on him for any old reason. And, yes, also like the first film, they want him to get lost. That inspires Kevin to say out loud that he wishes they would all disappear. That way, he can celebrate Christmas all by himself. You can’t exactly blame him. When you’re part of a big, loud family that doesn’t always embrace you (or remember you), wouldn’t you want to get away, if just for a day?
In the first film, a blown transformer in the middle of the night assures a less than smooth travel day the next morning. As you may recall, amidst all the confusion, The MacCallisters forget all about Kevin who has been banished to the attic after an incident the previous evening. In Home Alone 2, Kevin actually makes it to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago with his family. The twist here is that he gets separated from the pack. He frantically runs after a man wearing a light brown winter coat thinking it’s his father, Peter (John Heard). Unfortunately for Kevin, he’s been chasing a complete stranger. Absurdly, he doesn’t realize this until his plane lands in New York City. Once again, his dopey and remarkably careless family suddenly realize he’s missing only after they’ve boarded their flight to Florida. However, Kevin’s very annoying mother, Kate (Catherine O’Hara), appears to be the only one who cares about this.
Meanwhile, our young, energetic hero is having the time of his life, thanks to his father’s credit cards and good old American greenbacks. He somehow manages to check into a ritzy hotel. (Donald Trump, in a brief cameo, even offers him directions to the front desk upon his first visit.) After settling in, Kevin goes shopping for goodies, makes some charitable donations and explores the city like the wide-eyed accidental tourist he’s become.
Unfortunately, he’s about to run into some old friends. Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern), the dimwitted home invaders Kevin outsmarted in the first film, have sprung from the joint and are already planning their next heist. The infamous Wet Bandits have their eye on a New York City toy store. Not only do they want to loot the place of all its dough, they want the toys, too.
They bump into Kevin in the street and we know pretty much where all of this is headed. In the film’s final act, Kevin manages to lure his foes to an abandoned house where he once again sets painful booby traps for them. You’d think they’d learn their lesson the first time.
Home Alone 2: Lost In New York is a sad spectacle, a platant ploy to squeeze as much money as possible out of its audience without even bothering to tell a superior, more original story than its blockbuster predecessor. The actors cannot be blamed for a screenplay that lacks the heart and comic ingenuity of the original, a guilty pleasure if there ever was one. This is especially true of two new characters specially added to this cynical follow-up. Tim Curry is terribly wasted in the role of a hotel concierge, a weakly constructed character who offers no amusing one-liners. How terribly disappointing that screenwriter John Hughes, a master of comic dialogue, failed to give him anything funny to say. And then there’s Oscar-winner Brenda Fricker (My Left Foot). She has the thankless task of portraying Bird Lady, an elderly advisor for Kevin who has been homeless since the collapse of her marriage. Her presence here is clearly intended to remind you of the old man from Home Alone, a mysterious character Kevin initially fears until an act of kindness completely alters his perception of him. That relationship is deeply moving and sweet. To shamelessly recycle that idea without giving us any real reason to care about the new friendship is not only irritating but insulting, as well.
This is a dreadful, unnecessary sequel. I just hope and pray that Home Alone 3 never makes it past the talking stages. Deep down, I already know I’m wrong.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, August 25, 2009