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‘Home Sweet Home Alone’ Has a Moral Compass and a Happy New Year

The holiday season is underway yet again. As some of us prepare to celebrate with our loved ones, let’s keep in mind the folks who may be spending this season apart. Hopefully none of us are getting into any ridiculous, mischievous, or downright zany shenanigans that might earn you a mark inside the old “Maybe” box on the naughty/nice list. If that’s the case, at least there are now six movies that explain in cartoonish detail what to do if you find yourself riding the sleigh solo during a ho-ho-home invasion.

Directed by Dan Mazer, Home Sweet Home Alone, the latest entry in the Home Alone franchise, continues the spread of Christmas cheer and holiday hijinks; this time with a hearty serving of morally grey characters and genuine unease on the side. 

Harkening back to 1990, the beginning of a decade that would introduce the world to beanie babies, the Rachel cut, and Napster. But also, a smug, Dennis the Menace-type force by the name of Kevin McCallister. Played by an equally as smug, “Dennis the Men-ish” Macaulay Culkin, who at just 10-years-old landed the role that would jumpstart his child acting career.

The original Home Alone saw Kevin getting left behind by his family on Christmas in an unfortunate accident. As his mother rushes to get back home to him, Kevin must face off against a pair of criminals known as the “Wet Bandits” who are trying to break into his home. What follows is a barrage of hilarious pranks and stunts in a story that would have been increasingly more tragic if the movie was rated PG-13.

Fast forward to 2021. There’s really no need to talk about the key points of the time, since it’s now, and I don’t think we want to get into that. But Home Sweet Home Alone is here! And with it, the introduction of a new miniature Sheriff in town. A 10-year-old Max Mercer. Played by a twelve-year-old Archie Yates. A young actor who, like Culkin during his youth, came out swinging. Yates’ first role was as Yorki in Taika Waititi’s Academy Award-winning Jojo Rabbit, and it catapulted him to success.

Casting Yates as the new face of Home Alone makes sense, and to his credit, the actor does his best to match the mischievous nature of Kevin McCallister while reminding viewers that he isn’t a carbon copy. That’s truly the nature of the film when it gets down to it. While it is a retelling of the original movie, it isn’t a reboot.

Home Sweet Home Alone aims to update the original story with new ideas, while also maintaining the core components that make Home Alone what it is; a Rube Goldberg torture machine instructional video series.

So wherein lies the problem with this modern telling of a holiday gem? Well, ironically it’s in the most interesting aspect of the movie. While the first film started off with a view of the McCallister family as they prepare to annoy service employees everywhere, this one actually begins with a look at the “criminals.” 

Home Sweet Home Alone ditches the “Wet Bandits” for loving couple Pam and Jeff McKenzie, portrayed by Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney, respectively. These two, after a series of unfortunate and completely avoidable events, find themselves playing robbers to break in and steal a doll from Max. A doll that he allegedly took from them in the first place.

The movie makes sure to remind you just how innocent Pam and Jeff are, and even how kind of messed up Max is. It’s a decision that really turns the original dynamics found in the first film completely on their head. Now we’re almost rooting for the thieves to win. The problem with this is that once the burglars do start burgling, Max starts pranking. And his “pranks” are bound to get him on the same watchlist as Kevin.

Now don’t get me wrong, the original had gags that were pretty hard to stomach. The tar and needle stairway mix still makes me wince. But at least when it happened, it was happening to two Looney Tune gangsters who were genuinely trying to harm Kevin. Now, Max is pelting billiard balls and soda rockets at a couple who honestly doesn’t deserve mini-Jigsaw’s antics. What’s more, suspension of disbelief is really pushed to the limit here, and it gets harder and harder to believe that either party wouldn’t have gone a different route at some point during the film’s 93-minute runtime.

Home Sweet Home Alone is charming, and the trio of Kemper, Delaney and Yates deliver some hearty holiday laughs. But the plot is fairly dry, and the focus on the good-naturedness of the thieves makes the fun and shock humor pranks feel pretty mean-tempered. Not a perfect retelling, but one that at least tries to offer something a little different in this year’s stocking.

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